The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, along with the First Lady, the country’s Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, and his wife at the Presidential Inauguration in Brasilia.O GLOBO / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO (O GLOBO / ZUMA PRESSE / CONTACT)
Every use of power requires setting boundaries. It requires a classification. Yesterday, in the two speeches he gave to take over the presidency of Brazil for the third time, Lula da Silva proposed his. He did not describe what happened as a triumph of one party over another. Not even from one coalition to the other. For him, his arrival marked the victory of democracy against “fascist-inspired authoritarianism.” This endorsement was a preliminary postulate of his presentation to Congress. On one side stood the democratic regime. On the other side Jair Bolsonaro and his followers.
Bolsonaro gave him the reason, if you will. He did not help transfer command attributes to him. A sign that, like his friend Donald Trump in the United States, he could not accept defeat. This absence is a complete political definition because, as Felipe González often says, “democracy is an ethic of defeat”. In other words, a Democrat is not recognized by how he wins, but by how he loses power.
In the second exhibition at the Planalto Palace, Lula set up the boxes of his order. Bolsonaro is in front of the new government. Not Bolsonarianism. “I will rule for those who voted for me and for those who didn’t vote for me,” he said, repeating the same promise since the first time in 2003 when he removed the PT shield in front of the world from his lapel. On this occasion, the commitment has a different density. This new Lula was released from prison, where he was serving a sentence that he and his family see not as an act of justice, but as persecution. In this context, “I will rule for all” translates to “There will be no vengeance.”
This way of presenting the sets corresponded to a periodization. It makes sense: periodization is a different kind of classification. Lula said that what was interrupted with Bolsonaro and that he is now resuming is a journey that began in the 1988 Constituent Assembly. A saga that therefore includes all the governments of Brazil except the one that just left . This includes in particular the social democracy of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, embodied by Vice President Geraldo Alckmin. It was an interesting detail that yesterday the President and Vice President swapped the party color of their ties: blue for the President; red, the truck.
Lula began to build with words what he must continue to build with deeds. A majority that allows him to rule. At best, the executive has 262 of the 513 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Of these MPs, only 181 belong to the coalition that won the elections. The others are conditional. The quorum is 257 votes.
Lula, in an alliance with Arthur Lira, sought the key to making the Chamber work in harmony with the Executive Branch’s purposes. He was the president of this body with Bolsonaro and there is every indication that he will continue to be so when the authorities have to be elected in February. It is possible that the President does not want to make the mistake of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, who failed in an attempt to put someone from her party at the head of this House, forever deadlocking her relationship with the parliamentary opposition.
In the Senate, Lula will have 31 votes of her own, 30 of which belong to parties that make up the executive branch. Congressional analysts believe he could reach 45 senators with good negotiations.
Legal arithmetic is read in the light of an unknown: what capacity will Lula have to pass a tax law that will allow him to break the so-called “spending ceiling”? It is a limit on household spending that cannot increase faster than inflation. This policy was approved by Michel Temer in 2016 and has been in effect since 2017. To pass the new law, Lula would need the votes of 257 lawmakers and 41 senators. In his first 100 days in office, his main goal will be to achieve these majorities. Yesterday the task began: he said that the “spending cap is stupid he will have revoked”.
It was the greatest economic boldness of his opening speeches. He neutralized them with various considerations. For example, he made it clear that the only thing his social policy would aim for was a return to constitutional rights. And he’s set himself a goal that seems like common sense: that all Brazilians can eat three times a day. He spoke of “realistic” budget management and the preference for “macroeconomic balance”. In the speech he delivered from the Planalto, after enumerating the social achievements of the PT governments, he remarked: “We have never been irresponsible with public funds. We’ve had budget surpluses every year, we’ve eliminated external debt, we’ve accumulated about $370,000 million in reserves, and we’ve reduced internal debt to almost half what it was before.”
Of course: he secured a few goals that would end the liberal era of Paulo Guedes. recovery of consumption; Commitment to national industry, especially in the technological field; and State intervention in the economy through two levers: the BNDES, the Development Bank, and Petrobras. There Lula appointed two prominent leaders of his party. Aloysio Mercadante at the bank and Jean Paul Prates at the oil company.
The PT leader knows that his revolutionary airs, if he had any, would meet three fairly inflexible barriers. On the one hand, the parliamentary restrictions, which should not be overestimated either: in the two previous presidencies, he never had very comfortable majorities, in which he repeatedly had to negotiate with his competitors. Another important caveat is the continuity of an orthodox like Roberto Campos in the central bank. The third is much more obvious: the international context in which he has to act in this new season at the Planalto is very different from that which prevailed between 2002 and 2010. Lula’s first two terms in office coincided with a golden age for the Latin American economy, beneficiaries of the great Asian expansion that led to a spectacular improvement in commodity prices. Perhaps one of the most important challenges facing the President-elect is capturing this change of historical moment with absolute clarity.
As is so often the case, anything that cannot be changed in the economy will be compensated for by more progressive policies in other areas. The Brazilian government’s new scheme has departments that must ruffle Bolsonaro’s skin just by their very existence: Departments for Human Rights, for Indigenous Peoples, for Women, for Racial Equality. To this shift must be added a reassessment of the environmental issue, which will be one of the axes of foreign policy.
Lula appointed one of his country’s most experienced diplomats to be in charge of this area: Mauro Vieira. Chancellor to Rousseff, representative to the United Nations, ambassadors to the United States and Argentina, Vieira will work for years with his mentor Celso Amorim, destined to advise the President in the Planalto. Vieira’s first movements were seen during the acceptance ceremony. Lula was very attentive to the presence of his neighbors, in particular Alberto Fernández from Argentina and Luis Lacalle Pou from Uruguay, who had traveled to Brasilia accompanied by two predecessors: Julio María Sanguinetti and José Mujica.
These liturgical approaches were the starting point for a task that Vieira will deal with in the coming weeks: rebuilding relations within Mercosur and reviving the deactivated Unasur. On this platform, Lula will seek to revitalize Brazil as an international player versus the United States, Europe and China as a South American leader.
The PT leader, as is his habit, offered some examples of realism yesterday. He strongly defended the freedom of religion guaranteed for all religions. Those were words the evangelicals, who were a key wheel in Bolsonaro’s electoral machinery, had long been waiting for. Another important signal was the appointment of a military officer of ministerial rank to the security team. It is Marco Edson Gonçalves Dias, a general who was his chief guardian for years. A sign of peace for a sector that was closely linked to the outgoing ruling party and now has to deal with a Minister of Civil Protection: José Múcio Monteiro.
Contrary to what might be expected, the new president did not discuss his legal cases, nor did he mention any prosecutions. Nor did he speak of anti-corruption policies.
The returned Lula has different traits than the one who has been to the same place twice. The most relevant: He is accompanied by Rosángela, “Janja”, a First Lady of great prominence. In fact, he was the one who organized the complex initiation ceremony, which was tremendous. Its presence is very important in the new official configuration.
In the final balance, the one who put the blue presidential suit back on continues to show the conditions of a pragmatic leader. “A trade unionist who knows the value of two percent”, as José Sarney was able to define it. Or to go to another portrait, that of his friend José Dirceu: “Someone who, when he has to choose between gas and brake, will always choose the brake.”
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