Brazil’s Lula Tries Centrists Over Unofficial Campaign Launch

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SAO PAULO — At the effective launch of his campaign on Saturday, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sought to lure centrists into his coalition to bolster his bid to overthrow incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro.

“We want to unite Democrats of all races and colors to face and defeat the totalitarian threat, the hatred,” da Silva told thousands of his Workers’ Party supporters, trade unionists and political allies gathered in Sao Paulo.

“We want to come back so that no one ever dares to challenge our democracy again and so fascism returns to the gutter of history, which it should never have left,” the former president added. “To end this crisis and grow, Brazil needs to be a normal country again.”

The event was technically the launch of da Silva’s pre-campaign, as the law doesn’t allow people to formally nominate themselves before August 5. The left is leading all polls to return to the job he held from 2003 to 2010, but his significant advantage over the far-right Bolsonaro in the October election has narrowed in recent weeks, according to some surveys.

Bolsonaro has challenged Supreme Court justices and their decisions, cast doubt on the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system and portrayed the upcoming election as a battle between good and evil. Analysts have expressed concern that he is preparing to challenge the election results.

Da Silva’s most concrete attempt to break through to the moderates yet has been his selection of a rival, Geraldo Alckmin, as his running mate. Alckmin, a center-right Catholic, appeared via video because he tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. The former governor of Sao Paulo lost his candidacy for president in 2006 and 2018, during which he harshly criticized the Workers’ Party governments.

“No past disagreements, no difference with the President and even the possible disagreements of today and tomorrow will not allow me to excuse myself from supporting and defending with determination that Lula must return to Brazil’s presidency,” he said. Alckmin, adding that Bolsonaro’s government is “the most disastrous and brutal in the history of the country.”

“When President Lula shook my hand, I saw more than a gesture of reconciliation between two historic adversaries. I saw a call to reason,” he said.

Alckmin has been compared to former vice president José Alencar, who died in 2011 and was instrumental in da Silva’s campaign to turn to center and win in 2002.

Members of other moderate political parties who did not support da Silva were also in attendance, including Senator Otto Alencar and Senator Veneziano Vital do Rego.

“We need to broaden this coalition and that’s what it’s for today,” Alencar told reporters. His party is unlikely to land a presidential candidate this year. “If we can’t get centrist parties to Lula in the first ballot, let them come in the second. We must have our arms open to every Democrat.”

Da Silva’s attempt to win over moderates matches what many analysts say he must do to secure victory. Political analyst Bruno Carazza told The Associated Press that polls show he is consolidating support among left-wing voters, but less successful in connecting with people elsewhere on the spectrum.

For example, on April 5, da Silva said he sees the legalization of abortion as a public health issue and defended abortion rights. His comments sparked immediate reactions from critics who said he risked troubling moderates whom he should prioritize.

The next day, da Silva partially backtracked on his statement, saying in a radio interview that he personally opposes abortions, but believes they should be legal.

Political scientist Antonio Lavareda told the AP he sees little room for growing da Silva’s support, given that he is already Brazil’s best-known politician.

Likewise, polls are already reflecting the sentiments of voters who will not be for him under any circumstances, particularly as a result of his arrest and conviction for corruption and money laundering that barred him from the 2018 race. Those convictions have since been overturned, as the judge presiding over the cases was deemed biased.

Many of da Silva’s supporters seemed unenthusiastic about his nods to moderates and the right-wing politician who joined him on the ticket.

“I don’t think we can trust people who were against us until recently,” said Eleonora Santos, a 47-year-old bank clerk who wore a shirt with da Silva’s face on it during his first presidential campaign in 1989. photos for a giant poster of Da Silva and Alckmin, she stood in front of Alckmin’s image to prevent him from appearing next to her candidate.

“I understand that Bolsonaro presents us with different challenges and that we need more support. I just don’t think this man gives us anything,” she said. “His voters will never be Lula voters.”

Most of da Silva’s comments in recent weeks praised the achievements of his two-term presidency, including lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty. He did the same on Saturday,” saying his government ended starvation in Brazil, only to have Bolsonaro bring it back.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, he said he wouldn’t talk about economic policy until after the election win – despite the fact that many Brazilians, who struggle to make ends meet amid double-digit inflation and high unemployment , would like to hear how candidates plan to come to their aid.

“Obviously he will benefit from the data from his administrations, but Brazil has changed a lot, new demands have been made,” said Carraza. “The economic situation is much more challenging and much more difficult after the pandemic and with the war in Ukraine. It is a very different context than twenty years ago.”

But for now, da Silva’s focus seems to be setting himself up as a defender of democracy amid a threat of authoritarianism. Wellington Dias, one of da Silva’s campaign coordinators, told reporters that da Silva will continue to win moderate votes.

“He will increasingly show democrats that their choice is important, that they can accept that there are differences, but that democracy must come above all else,” Dias said. ___ Álvares contributed from Brasilia.

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