Lula: New president of Brazil sworn in amid tight security

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, his wife Rosangela Silva, second from left, Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, right, and his wife Maria Lucia Ribeiro. Credit: AP

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been sworn in as the new president of Brazil.

This is the third time the politician, known as Lula, has been elected president, having previously led the country between 2003 and 2010.

Lula’s presidency is unlikely to be like his previous two mandates, coming after the tightest presidential race in more than three decades in Brazil and resistance to his taking office by some of his opponents, political analysts say.

The left-wing politician defeated far-right Bolsonaro in the October 30 vote by less than two percentage points. For months, Bolsonaro had sown doubts about the reliability of Brazil’s electronic vote and his loyal supporters were loath to accept the loss.

Tens of thousands of supporters decked out in the red of Lula’s Workers’ Party cheered after his swearing in.

Supporters of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather to attend his inauguration as new president outside the Planalto presidential palace. Credit: AP

Lula has made it his mission to heal the divided nation. But he will have to do so while navigating more challenging economic conditions than he enjoyed in his first two terms.

At the time, his administration's flagship welfare programme helped lift tens of millions of impoverished people into the middle class. Many Brazilians travelled abroad for the first time. He left office with a personal approval rating of 83%.

Lula has said his priorities are fighting poverty, and investing in education and health. He has also said he will bring illegal deforestation of the Amazon to a halt.

He sought support from political moderates to form a broad front and defeat Bolsonaro, then tapped some of them to serve in his Cabinet.

“Our message to Brazil is one of hope and reconstruction,” Lula said in a speech in Congress’ Lower House after signing the document that formally instates him as president.

“The great edifice of rights, sovereignty and development that this nation built has been systematically demolished in recent years. To re-erect this edifice, we are going to direct all our efforts.”

Credit: AP

Claúdio Arantes, a 68-year-old pensioner, carried an old Lula campaign flag on his way to the esplanade. The lifelong Lula supporter attended his 2003 inauguration, and agreed that this time feels different. “Back then, he could talk about Brazil being united. Now it is divided and won’t heal soon,” Arantes said. “I trust his intelligence to make this national unity administration work so we never have a Bolsonaro again.”

Given the nation’s political fault lines, it is highly unlikely Lula ever reattains the popularity he once enjoyed, or even sees his approval rating rise above 50%, said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro’s State University.

A supporters of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva flashes a victory sign prior to his inauguration. Credit: AP

Furthermore, Santoro said, the credibility of Lula and his Workers’ Party were damaged by a sprawling corruption investigation.

Party officials were jailed, including Lula - until his convictions were annulled on procedural grounds. The Supreme Court then ruled that the judge presiding over the case had colluded with prosecutors to secure a conviction. Lula and his supporters have maintained he was railroaded while Bolsonaro’s backers refuse to accept someone they view as a criminal returning to the highest office.

Jair Bolsonaro. Credit: AP

Tensions have been high in recent weeks.

On December 12, dozens of people tried to invade a federal police building in Brasilia, and burned cars and buses in other areas of the city. Then on Christmas Eve, police arrested a 54-year-old man who admitted to making a bomb that was found on a fuel truck headed to Brasilia’s airport. He had been camped outside Brasilia’s army headquarters with hundreds of other Bolsonaro supporters since November 12. He told police he was ready for war against communism, and planned the attack with people he had met at the protests, according to excerpts of his deposition released by local media.

The next day, police found explosive devices and several bulletproof vests in a forested area on the federal district’s outskirts. Lula’s incoming Justice Minister, Flávio Dino, this week called for federal authorities to put an end to the “antidemocratic” protests, calling them “incubators of terrorists.” In response to a request from Lula’s team, the current justice minister authorised deployment of the national guard until January 2, and Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes banned people from carrying firearms in Brasilia during these days. “This is the fruit of political polarisation, of political extremism,” said Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco. Pavão stressed that Bolsonaro, who mostly vanished from the political scene since he lost his reelection bid, was slow to disavow recent incidents. “His silence is strategic: Bolsonaro needs to keep Bolsonarismo alive,” Pavão said. Bolsonaro finally condemned the bomb plot in a December 30 farewell address on social media, hours before flying to the US.

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