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LATIN AMERICA | 06-10-2022 01:30

Experts: Lula must fight for centre to win Brazil run-off

Known as a deft politician, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will need to tap his acumen to strike alliances if he is to defeat Jair Bolsonaro in the October 30 showdown.

To prevail in Brazil's tighter-than-expected presidential run-off, leftist veteran Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will have to strike alliances with centrists, woo the business sector and offer voters more than just his legacy, analysts say.

The long-time front-runner may have won last Sunday's first-round vote against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, but the latter appears to have the momentum, having shattered pollsters' forecasts of a rout to finish within five points of Lula and force a second round.

If Lula is to stymy Bolsonaro, analysts say, he will have to redouble his efforts to win back the political middle, still disillusioned over the devastating corruption charges – since annulled – that controversially sent him to jail in 2018.

The 76-year-old Workers' Party (PT) founder acknowledged as much himself after Sunday's disappointing results.

"We'll have to spend less time preaching to the choir and more time talking to voters... those who appear not to like us," he said Monday after meeting his campaign team to chart their strategy for the final stretch. "Little peace-and-love Lula is ready to talk to everyone."


Deal-making time

Known as a deft politician, Lula will need to tap that acumen to strike alliances.

"He will have to make some gestures and concessions" to the centre-left and centre-right, whose votes Bolsonaro will also be after, said political analyst Leandro Gabiati, head of consulting firm Dominium.

Lula already made a giant nod to centrists by picking centre-right veteran Geraldo Alckmin – the candidate he beat in the 2006 presidential race – as his running-mate.

Now he needs to chase the votes that went to Sunday's third- and fourth-place finishers, centre-right candidate Simone Tebet (four percent) and centre-left candidate Ciro Gomes (three percent).

Lula got a clutch endorsement Tuesday from Gomes' Democratic Labour Party (PDT), despite a long history of animosity between the two men. 

Gomes grudgingly went along, saying in a video he "supported" the endorsement as "the only exit, under the circumstances."

Getting the backing of Tebet, an anti-abortion Catholic, could meanwhile be key to luring socially conservative women voters. She is ready to back Lula. But it will be another matter winning over her party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), which has a strong pro-Bolsonaro wing.

"Make your decision soon. Mine is already made," Tebet told the divided party's leadership.


Big spending shelved

Lula will also have to sell the business sector on his plans for Latin America's biggest economy. He presided over a watershed economic boom in the 2000s, blending market-friendly policy with ambitious social programmes.

But Bolsonaro has more backing from the market this time around – as seen when stocks surged Monday on his better-than-expected showing.

Lula will have to be "malleable" on economic policy to woo the business sector, said Arthur Ituassu, professor of political communication at Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro.

The former president will likely have to renegotiate his plans to expand social spending and overhaul the tax system, he said.

"That's going to be fundamental," he said. "That's how he wins the volatile centre."


Back to the future?

Lula, who left office basking in a record 87-percent approval rating, also must stop leaning so heavily on his legacy and offer voters concrete, forward-looking policy plans, analysts say.

"He's only talked about his achievements from his past administrations," said Paulo Calmon, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. "He needs to present plans for the future."

If that weren't enough, the former president also will have to perform one final feat of political gymnastics: execute all the above without losing the 57 million votes he won Sunday.

"A lot of voters who aren't necessarily on the left voted for Lula out of anti-Bolsonaro sentiment," said Dominium's Gabiati. "But if Bolsonaro improves his message, he might reverse that rejection... and win that vote."

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by Javier Tovar, AFP


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