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August 31, 2006

What is Lula Doing Right?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

With elections just weeks away, Brazilian President "Lula" Ignacio da Silva is well-ahead in the polls.  He is bucking not just a string of corruption scandals but general dissatisfaction with incumbents across the Americas, and I might say, globally.  (I'm having trouble thinking of the last major leader who was easily re-elected, but I'm sure I must have forgotten someone.)

Much has been said and written in recent months about whether the tide is turning against democracy in Latin America, and whether the gains of the last 15 years are being lost, not just in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and so on.  I won't pretend to be a Latin America expert -- and fortunately the brilliant Adam Isaacson, who is the real thing, returns soon to guest-blog for us.  But here a few possible factors I'd like to see sombody explore:

-- economic policies.  Somehow in Brazil, both the bankers and the poor seem to perceive that they are better off.  How'd that happen?

-- savvy use of Uncle Sam-bashing.  My very cursory attention to the matter suggests that Lula is balancing very effectively between the Venezuela-Cuba-Bolivia axis (to dignify it a bit) and Washington.

--New powers.  Lots has been written about the emergence of pivotal regional states such as Brazil, Nigeria and Ukraine. Nigeria and Ukraine are perennially emerging but never quite get there; is Lula demonstrating what the phenomenon looks like?  (eg occasional murmurings about nuclear power and separate trade blocs; balancing politics; some UN leadership in areas like the Haiti mission)

--just a case of high-level political skills?

I look forward to enlightened commentary.  (And if you think this is my week to pose questions without answering them, you're right.)


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Polls show that Lula is popular in large part due to his individual personality. He connects with the poor, who see Lula as one of them (and indeed, he did grow up quite poor). He is also seen as a moderate by many who once perceived him as a rightist.

He has taken individual credit for several policies that reflect his personality. He has implemented policies that have benefitted the poor, including paying millions of parents to send their children to school and be vaccinated. He has also respected basic property rights and encouraged foreign investment, which keeps the business community somewhat content.

Lula as an individual has managed to take credit for the positives while deflecting the negatives that have continued to plague Brazil (continued poverty, increased crime).

It is largely personal support, however, and Lula's party is expected to take a big hit in the congressional elections. While the people like Lula, they see his party as corrupt and inept (in fact, they see most Brazilian politicians as corrupt) Lula is already shopping for a political coalition among some of his opponents, knowing that he will be losing legislative support in the upcoming election.

In terms of the international issues, Lula is a fascinating case study of a world leader juggling many balls while moving his country forward. However, the international issues have played very minimally into the election. He is winning because of his personality and somewhat due to domestic policy, but Brazilians really don't care much about his role in the US-Venezuela pissing match, even though that's what the world community is focusing on.

PS: In terms of easily reelected, nobody had it easier than President Uribe of Colombia.

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