Lula stopped just short of a first round victory in Brazil’s presidential election but is almost certain to win the second round vote on October 27. With 99 percent of polls reporting Lula has 46.4 percent of the vote. All but a tiny corner of the country is painted red in an electoral map showing where Lula has won a plurality. Ciro Gomes, a populist who ran fourth with 12 percent of the vote has already thrown his support to Lula for the second round.
“Workers Party activists are delighted,” reports Marcela Escribano of Alternatives, a Montreal-based NGO that works closely with the popular movements in Brazil. Escribanon has been in touch with people in Lula’s campaign during the night. “It is not only Lula’s victory but also that the PT vote has massively increased in the governors’ and state elections. The also increased their seats in the Senate from three to eleven.”
There will be run-off elections for the governors of most states. While anything can happen in a second round, there will no doubt be a massive mobilization of the people’s movements in Brazil with victory so close at hand.
Lula’s victory will be a critical turning point for the left not only in Latin America but throughout the world. The PT has developed a new direction for the left in government. When he was in Toronto a few years ago, Lula explained that in face of the failure of social democracy and communism, they had to create a new road for the left.
‘Where we are in power,” Lula told a packed audience at OISE auditorium, “we turn neo-liberalism on its head. That’s our starting point. We start from the needs of the people, not the needs of capital.” The PT and other left-leaning groups now control over one hundred municipalities, including most large urban areas, such as Sao Paulo, Recife, Belem and Porto Alegre.
While the mainstream media is falling all over itself to explain how moderate Lula has become in the last few years, the PT is deeply rooted in Brazil’s social movements, particularly the Landless Movement (MST) and the CUT (Brazil’s trade union federation). Moreover the PT is itself an alliance of left-wing parties including a wide spectrum from social democrat to Trotskyist.
Most important, however, are the new forms of democracy that the PT has developed where it has been in power. The Participatory Budget in Porto Alegre, a city in Southern Brazil has become a model of citizen involvement studied by municipal politicians and academics around the world. All new spending in Porto Alegre and other cities governed by the PT is decided by citizens’ assemblies organized first by region and then city wide.
“It is not just a new municipal government that is being built here,” explains Edmilson Brito Rodrigues, Mayor of Belem (population: 1 million), “it is a new way of governing.’
For the PT, the democratic participation of citizens is at the heart of a new left politics. Lula’s victory in the first round of the Presidential elections is a sign of the popularity of this kind of politics. In other parts of the country where the PT is in power they are experimenting with even broader forms of participatory democracy like People’s Assemblies.
Conscious of the pressures from capital and the United States, the PT has been organizing a base of international solidarity. The World Social Forum held in Porto Allegre for the last two years has involved tens of thousands of activists who have seen first hand the new kind of world created under a PT government. Even anarchists, deeply suspicious of any government, were impressed by the popular participation in Porto Alegre’s budget.
Lula himself is also a powerful symbol. In a deeply class divided society, Lula would be the first working class person to ever lead Brazil. His modest beginnings and incredibly charismatic connection to the people of the Brazil mean that his election will provide a sense of empowerment to the poor and powerless of Brazil that is difficult to over-estimate.
When I was in Porto Alegre last January for the World Social Forum I participated in a PT rally where Lula spoke. It is hard to explain the effect he has. He spoke very simply for less than ten minutes but by the end everyone in the room had a huge smile on their faces. I felt like I had just had a tremendous hug from my favourite uncle and I don’t even understand Portuguese. It is true that Lula has moved a little to the right in order to secure an electoral victory and calm the forces of capital that could create an economic catastrophe in Brazil.
But as JoÃ£o Pedro Stedile, the national leader of Brazil’s Sem Terra Movement (MST) told rabble last week “The PT adopted an electoral tactic that is not left. It is a centre tactic. It had its reasons. But I believe that Lula’s victory, more than the alliances, will represent a symbol for de-politicized people who will find they have come into their own and will rise up. Hence, a victory for Lula could stimulate a new rise of the mass movement in Brazil that has been in retreat for more than ten years.”
Stedile also pointed out the importance of a Lula victory for Latin America. “If Lula wins this would represent a change in the relationship of political forces throughout the continent. The United States knows that it would not then have a servile government – that this government will negotiate, but it won’t bow down. And above all, our victory would inspire a resurgence of the mass movement in Brazil and in other countries of Latin America. That’s what we expect or hope will happen,’ he told rabble in an interview last week.
So the three weeks between the first and second round will be a real test of the ability of the mass movements to mobilize. It is this mobilization that will ensure that the pressure of Lula from the ground can counter to inevitable pressure from capital and its political servants. The only set back in yesterday’s election was in the state of Rio Grande del Sul where the PT governor came in second to a virtual unknown. There will be a run off in this election but PT activists see this result as a serious set-back. -Judy Rebick is the publisher of www.rabble.ca. This article first appeared on rabble.
Judy Rebick CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy Ryerson University 416 979-5000 ext 6169