The Brazilian left does not want to wait for stoppage time. The objective is to win the match on Sunday, October 2, in the first round of the presidential elections, and avoid having to fight the tiebreaker a month later. The latest polls indicate that this is possible, but for very little. One week before the elections, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva landed this Saturday in a neighborhood on the outskirts of São Paulo, the country’s great hotbed of votes, to charge against two of his opponents: the abstentionist and President Jair Bolsonaro, who is behind in the polls. “All he wants is for the people not to go out and vote”, he launched during a rally with a festive atmosphere. “He has a headache called Lula!”
“Mom, it’s coming soon!” Sueli Batista’s son is, like the whole family, lulista. He wears red sneakers and pants, the color of the Workers’ Party (PT), although the shirt is white. “I told him it was already too red,” explains Batista. Perhaps to retaliate, the boy has brought something to Lula: a squared sheet, folded in half, with a drawing of the former president and the PT starry flag. Let’s see if he can give it to her. Hundreds of people have come to this park in Grajaú, a district of low houses and unpainted brick 90 minutes by car from downtown São Paulo, to witness the return of the idol. Batista is confident of a victory in the first round: “He’s going to win.” Spot.
The polls have fueled that hope on the left. According to the latest survey by the Datafolha Institute, the former president would receive 47% of the support in the first round, but if white and null votes are excluded, he would reach 50%. Above that barrier, Lula would not have to duel with Bolsonaro again and would avoid scares during the long month until the second round. It would be the first time that a president has achieved this since Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1998.
To repeat the feat, Lula must defeat what he considers his greatest enemy at this point in the race. And that is not Bolsonaro, who is 14 points ahead in the polls, but abstention. The PT candidate leads by more than 30 points among the poorest Brazilians, those who earn less than 500 dollars a month. They make up the largest bloc of the electorate, but it is also the fringe that votes the least. In recent days, his campaign has reinforced the messages against abstention. Mobilizing peripheral São Paulo, the one that works but doesn’t sleep in the downtown skyscraper area, is crucial.
“It’s here!” someone announces. “Olé, olé, olé, olé, olá, Lulaaa!”, chants the audience. “Sexy!” a curly-haired student yells. Lula appears on stage with a red shirt with the sleeves rolled up and takes her left hand to his heart, the one that is missing the finger that she lost in her days as a metal worker. She doesn’t need paper for the speech. He moves around the stage like a rock star and each of his phrases is perfectly in tune for an audience he knows well – he grew up in a neighborhood not far from Grajaú. “People want to be treated like citizens. People have to eat and the State has to subsidize so that they can eat”, he says.
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Nostalgia for the Lula years runs strong among those present. Almost all of them benefited from one of the numerous social programs that she launched during her government (2003-2010) and that lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Claudinelha Hipólito, 40, holds a flag with the candidate’s face on it and has several stickers attached to her sweatshirt. She studied for a diploma in technology thanks to a scholarship for poor students. “With Lula, people ate better, dressed better. I got a job shortly after I was first elected.” Although unemployment has fallen in recent months, humble areas like Grajaú continue to feel the blow of the crisis derived from the pandemic. Hipólito has been out of work for a year.
Following the promise of a return to the good old days, Lula insists on what seems to be his central message: people have to go out and vote in order to win on the first Sunday in October. “I learned from the polls that the people of Grajaú were upset with the PT and that many people in the last election did not go to vote,” he scolds, recalling his party’s resounding defeat against Bolsonaro in the 2018 elections. “And what is the problem of not voting? That one loses the moral authority to protest. You cannot have 20% abstention and 10% invalid vote. It is necessary that they convince each person in the next few days [de su entorno] to go out and vote.”
Ricardo Vidal, a 22-year-old audiovisual student, feels optimistic. Even his father seems that he will vote for Lula, after voting for Bolsonaro four years ago. Covid-19 killed several of his relatives and he was left without a job. He learned his lesson, according to Vidal. “Lula doesn’t have to explain what she’s going to do, just show what she’s already done,” he says. For the student, it is as easy as that. A catchy campaign song begins to play, and Vidal hugs a group of friends as if he were at a concert: “Lula la, our star shines, Lula la…”.
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