• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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‘Anxious and frustrated’ Lula takes swerve to the left in Brazil

‘Anxious and frustrated’ Lula takes swerve to the left in Brazil

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is in a hurry. Since he took office for a historic third term just over 100 days ago, the Brazilian leader has been desperate to stamp his mark on the presidency and undo the rightward shift that Latin America’s largest country took under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

In his four-year term, Brazil will make 40 years of progress, says Lula, who has pledged to eradicate hunger, kick-start the economy and give Brazilians a reason for optimism after years of stagnation.

But there have been few early signs of such a transformation. Beyond a push to reassert Brazil’s role on the international stage — with presidential visits to the US, China and South American neighbours — the opening months of the new government have been marked by stuttering domestic progress and increasingly vicious spats between Lula’s leftwing Workers’ party and the country’s top economic policymakers.

After the January 8 riot by Bolsonaro supporters in Brasília all but overshadowed his first month in office, the 77-year-old Lula appears increasingly impatient — even irritable — with his critics. And he has largely discarded the “big tent” coalition that propelled him to election victory in October.

“He is a mixture of Lulas we know from the past, but he is also a different Lula. He is more impatient, more centralised, listens to fewer people and he wants results fast,” said Thomas Traumann, a political analyst who served in a previous Workers’ party administration.

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During his first two terms between 2003 and 2010, Lula was feted globally for steering Brazil through a heady period of commodities-fuelled growth and poverty reduction. While tilting leftward, he adhered to market principles.

This time around, that commitment to the market cannot be assumed. In the opening days of his administration, Lula and his closest allies took aim at the recently independent central bank and its technocratic president Roberto Campos Neto. They accused Campos Neto of keeping interest rates artificially high to the benefit of wealthy bankers and the detriment of the wider economy and poorer Brazilians.

So far the central bank has refused to yield to the pressure for lower rates, even as Workers’ party members protest outside its headquarters. But the spat has alarmed investors, who revised up inflation expectations, fuelling further uncertainty about the country’s economic outlook.

William Waack, a political commentator, said Lula picked Campos Neto as a scapegoat to blame if — as forecast — the economy does not grow or expands only marginally this year.

“Lula strongly believes if he doesn’t show good results in a short period of time he will face even more political obstacles. He is anxious and frustrated, quite different from the guy he was [in previous terms].”

On his core social agenda, Lula made a promising start with a transition package that restored billions of dollars in funding to healthcare and education, in addition to relaunching an enhanced welfare programme and raising the minimum wage for poorer Brazilians. But he has failed to galvanise supporters around any new proposals such as a long-awaited infrastructure package.

A recent poll from Datafolha showed 51 per cent of respondents felt the president had done less than they expected so far. The same survey found 38 per cent of Brazilians considered his government good, 30 per cent average and 29 per cent bad.

Some of the difficulties facing Lula are down to Congress, which — even by its own lethargic standards — has been slow to get down to business.

But when bills do eventually make it to a vote, the president will face obstacles, as his parliamentary bloc does not have even a simple majority, never mind the three-fifths majority required to pass the constitutional amendments needed for any substantial piece of legislation.

Efforts to win over new lawmakers have so far floundered, partly because he has appealed to the left flank after abandoning the “big tent” rhetoric from last year’s election campaign.

“Lula is much more on the left than in his first two governments,” said Traumann. “He is just talking to his base — to the Workers’ party and the poor.”