Lula Set To Make Anticipated Political Comeback In Brazil

Anazir Maria de Oliveira has a straightforward message for Lula. “Comrade, I want you back,” exclaimed the 88-year-old black activist and union veteran as she welcomed her “guru” back into the political battle in Brazil.

Lula – full name Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – appeared to be nearing the end of a legendary political career until a few months ago. After a spectacular fall from grace, the former factory worker ascended to become one of the world's most popular presidents before being imprisoned and prohibited from running for office.

However, the reversal of corruption convictions against Brazil's first working-class president has thrown the country's politics into disarray, giving believers like Oliveira optimism that the septuagenarian leader may make a return.

Polls show that five months after Lula's political rights were restored, he would smash Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, in next year's election, who is facing increasing outrage over his reaction to a Covid epidemic that has killed more than half a million Brazilians.

“Seeing him in the presidency again is all we desire. I'm heart and soul Lula," gushed Oliveira, or Dona Zica as she is called in Vila Aliança, the favela where she lives on Rio's impoverished western outskirts.

Lula, who served as president for two terms from 2003 to 2010, has yet to publicly declare his sixth presidential candidacy after initially seeking the presidency in 1989 at the age of 44. In a recent interview, the 75-year-old stopped short of announcing his ambitions, but claimed that Joe Biden's victory at the age of 78 had encouraged him. Lula quipped, "I'm a boy compared to Biden."

The author of a new book of Lula's journey from unionist to president, John D French, said he had no doubt Lula would run – and that he was well-positioned to win.

“He's the Pelé of worldwide presidential electoral politics - nobody in the world has a record like his,” French added, recalling how Lula or Lula's chosen candidate had finished first or second in six consecutive elections dating back to 1998.

Lula lost that year's election to centrist scholar Fernando Henrique Cardoso, but four years later, in 2002, he won a historic landslide, promising voters that "hope has defeated fear." As Brazil recovers from a coronavirus-driven health and economic disaster that has killed more than 550,000 people and sent the country into a deep depression, members of Lula's Workers' Party (PT) are promoting a similarly optimistic message.

“The reality is [Lula] represents a time when things were going well, when Brazil believed it was progressing, when things were happening, when the minimum wage was rising, when your children could go to school, when 10 million houses were built,” French added. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, has become synonymous with today's "suffering, catastrophe, and despair."

“Everyone feels what is going on right now in their everyday lives,” French added. “I'm not just talking about unemployment... People are losing a huge number of family members. It's extremely genuine.” Many conservatives are terrified of Lula's comeback, and some on the left are concerned as well, even if they agree that his political clout may put him in the greatest position to defeat Bolsonaro.