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Who is Lula? What to know about Brazil’s next president

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Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was elected Brazil’s president next Sunday after a contentious and tight race in one of the world’s most populous democracies. He won 50.89% of the vote, with 99.76% of the votes counted, beating incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who had 49.11.

Twice president and former labor leader, Lula has led a campaign in defense of democratic values, calling his victory over Bolsonaro essential to maintaining Brazilian democracy.

Here’s what you need to know.

A charismatic politician, Lula is a figurehead of the American left. Born in Pernambuco, in the northeast, his parents were farmers who could not afford to feed their eight children. When he was 7 years old, his mother and six siblings moved to the state of São Paulo in search of a better life, first in the port city of Santos and three years later in the most populous city and the state capital.

While in São Paulo, he dropped out of school to become a shoe shiner and later found a job in a factory. He lost his little finger on his left hand in a machinery accident when he was 17.

He began his career in union activism in his early twenties. At 25, he lost his wife of two years, Lourdes, who was eight months pregnant, to hepatitis. He continued his work as a union leader and in 1975 was elected president of the powerful metalworkers’ union. Lula organized several strikes to challenge Brazil’s dictatorial government, cementing his image as a symbol of democracy and the labor movement, drawing comparisons to Poland’s Lech Walesa.

Bolsonaro against Lula: a referendum on the young Brazilian democracy

In 1980, Lula and a group of workers, intellectuals and artists founded the Workers’ Party in Response to the Military Regime, a pluralist left-wing party that brought together trade unionists, intellectuals, artists and practitioners of theology liberation, among others.

He ran for president three times before being elected in 2002, being part of the pink tide of Latin America. During his time, Brazil experienced an economic boom triggered by a surge in global demand for commodities, and his tenure is known for its massive social protection programs that lifted millions out of poverty.

In April 2018, Lula was sent to prison for corruption in connection with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Lava Jato”) investigation, announced by Judge Sérgio Moro. The sprawling investigation looked into a kickback scheme involving Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras that had ramifications across Latin America.

Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled that detainees cannot be imprisoned while their appeals are still pending, a decision that has affected thousands of prisoners, including Lula. The court’s decision came days after The Intercept published revelations that Moro had collaborated with prosecutors in the former president’s case, breaking due process rules. Lula was released in November 2019 after spending 580 days in prison.

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What challenges does he face?

The close results of the first round of the presidential election (48% of the vote for Lula, 43% for Bolsonaro), showing that the polls underestimated the popularity of Bolsonaro, forced Lula to form a broad coalition and move towards the center. He will also face challenges in Congress, where Bolsonaro’s party has made significant gains.

Brazil was hit hard by inflation in the second half of 2021. And although inflation is coming down and the country’s economy is recovering, real income has not returned to pre-war levels. coronavirus pandemic.

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