Lula said it best: “Hope won over fear.” In a decisive victory with a record 83 million votes cast, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) – known everywhere as Lula – became the President-elect of Brazil last night with 61 per cent of the total.
In what could be an excellent omen, October 27 is also Lula’s 57th birthday.
Brazilians poured into the streets to party even before Lula’s opponent, JosÃ© Serra, ceded defeat. In Rio de Janeiro, thousands began a march from the top of the famed Corcovado mountain and snaked down through favelas and neighbourhoods to the centre of town, where the partying went on long into the night.
“Lula said he was being elected president of the republic in the name of our generation, everyone who fought for democracy in Brazil and dreamed about this moment,” said Workers’ Party President JosÃ© Dirceu.
Rici Lake, a rabble.ca citizen journalist posting from Brazil says: “It was a great party. Marco Zero — the plaza at the centre of Recife — was absolutely packed. The estimate is that there were 200,000 people there, which certainly seems plausible. The elections office had set up a giant screen showing the results as they came in.”
In San Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, people were literally dancing in the streets all night.
The election of a democratic socialist as president of Brazil, the world’s fifth largest democracy, will also have tremendous repercussions across Latin America and around the world. Lula strongly opposes the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA). The PT, along with organized social movements, held a people’s plebiscite last month where 10 million people voted 85 per cent against the FTAA. There is no question that Brazil will not only oppose but organize opposition to a free trade deal in the Americas.
President Hugo ChÃ¡vez of Venezuela spoke of Lula joining him in a Latin American “axis of good,” reported the New York Times. The Workers’ Party has pioneered a new form of people’s democracy that provides a model for the left around the world. When he was speaking in Toronto a few years ago, Lula asked, “Did we win democracy, only to have the right to cry out our hunger?”
“I want my victory to symbolize that nobody is inferior to anybody else,” Lula said in a speech on Wednesday. “A lathe operator can be more competent in doing politics than many political scientists.”
The World Social Forum organized in PT-led Porto Allegre has already provided a centre for social justice movements around the world. Lula’s victory will be a huge injection of energy in building a global movement for social justice. Perhaps as important is the symbolism of Lula’s victory. As the first working class president, Lula’s election gives tremendous power to the poor, landless and marginalized people of Brazil. The PT has close links to massive social movements who have promised to mobilize to ensure that this electoral victory is just the beginning of a broad transformation towards social justice.
Dealing with the massive economic inequalities in Brazil will be an enormous challenge for Lula. Neo-liberalism has hit Brazil’s economy hard. The gap between rich and poor is one of the biggest in the world. Unemployment is at its highest levels since early 2000, and there is a $260- billion debt. There is also the difficulty of transforming an economy under the triple threat of investment flight, International Monetary Fund (IMF) sanctions and possible U.S. intervention.
Moreover, Lula’s Workers’ Party is far from controlling Congress. Brazil’s system is modeled on the American system so the President’s power can be limited by Congress. In state elections, the PT did not do as well, winning governor in only three states out of 27, two of these in the first round.
Rici Lake reports, “Although it was certainly a night to celebrate, it was also a victory for Lula more than for the PT, which had disappointing if not heart-breaking results in second-round state governorships’”
There were several very close races. “In Rio Grande do Sul, the traditional home of the PT, PT candidate Tarso Genro was beaten by the PMDB candidate by 52.7% to 47.3%. Genro had been trailing throughout the polls, and the result was better than had been predicted by pollsters. However, it is obviously still a disappointment.”
The U.S. government and the markets seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach. U.S. President Bush made a pro forma statement congratulating Lula on his victory through a spokesperson yesterday. Brazilian currency, under attack by international markets since Lula’s first round victory October 6, made a slight rally in the last few days.
In his first formal address on television last night, Lula said he would “do everything within my reach to bring peace to our continent” and “build a country that has more justice, brotherhood and solidarity.” Viva o Presidente Lula!
Judy Rebick is publisher of www.rabble.ca, where this article originally appeared. She is also the author of Imagine Democracy (Stoddart), which was in part inspired by the experiences of the PT in Brazil.