Geopolitics

The Key To Reelection For Bolsonaro? Lula's Arrogance

Fears of an economic slump under another leftist government led by an 'unrepentant' Lula da Silva may prompt Brazilians to reelect authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro for a second term next year.

Protest in support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil,  March 2021.
Protest in support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 2021.
Leonardo Weller*

-OpEd-

SAO PAULO — The Brazilian Workers Party refuses to take a critical look at its past. Sticking to a mistaken narrative about the governments their party led under presidents Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff could help reelect the current, arch-conservative President Jair Bolsonaro. And while not as openly absurd as Bolsonaro's obscurantism and paranoia, the continued delusions of the Workers Party (PT) can be just as harmful to Brazil.

The PT will not recognize the mistakes it made, which mired the country in the worst recession in its history in the years after 2010. It is suggesting the party would adopt the same, disastrous economic policies should Lula win a third term as president. This is just the fuel the Bolsonaro camp needs.

The second Lula government and first Dilma presidency produced a veritable disaster that mostly punished the poorest.

And by already labeling anyone who is not with the PT as "coup" supporters and "radical neoliberals," the PT leadership is reducing the chances of drawing them to their side in a second electoral round in 2022. The PT's economic disaster happened gradually. In his first government beginning in 2003, Lula faced major challenges and achieved surprising success thanks to a virtuous and consensual program, which sadly did not last.

His income redistribution policies, like Bolsa Familia, are important, but we can only reverse centuries of social exclusion within a sustained process of economic growth. For that, one needs predictable policies that assure currency stability and balanced public spending, and bolster the business environment.

In Lula's second government, it became clear these were not among the PT's objectives. The aim then was to expand public spending and intervene in the economy through state-sector firms and autarkic entities like the Central Bank, as previously outlined by PT economists.

The change in orientation began with the rise of Rousseff and the economist Guido Mantega at the end of the first Lula presidency. They replaced the team that had laid the bases of growth in the decade after 2000. Spending increased with the 2008 slump and became excessive under Rousseff's presidency, as its poor results began to emerge.

Costly subsidies did not increase investment. Inflation exceeded set targets, but the government forced the Monetary Policy Committee to cut the base rate in 2011. From then on, Rousseff ordered price curbs in a clumsy attempt to control inflation.

It was a blatant turnaround in priorities. Macroeconomic policies are meant to keep stability for the economy, so firms can invest, work and produce more. The president did the opposite, using state firms as tools to obtain macroeconomic goals. It led to stagflation (inflationary recession).

Lula_Brazil_politics

Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva (PT) holding a press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 2021. — Photo: Vanessa Carvalho/ZUMA Wire

The first Lula government's strength had been its ability to form a team that could combine economic stability with income distribution policies. That was the best thing they did. By moving away from the economic consensus of the early 2000s, the second Lula government and first Dilma presidency produced a veritable disaster that mostly punished the poorest, and reversed the social achievements of the preceding decade.

Yet in spite of its tremendous failures, the PT refuses to criticize its past. On returning to the political arena last month, Lula remained in his usual, parallel reality, qualifying the troubled Petrobras oil giant as a "well managed state firm."

Brazil's biggest firm was not only the victim of corruption, but further undermined by government interference in fuel prices and auctions of oil fields. While corruption is terrible, it is not the worst of our ills. We would probably not become a developed country with honest politicians alone, and must have the right economic policies.

Refusing to accept its past economic policy failures, the PT can only explain its fall through conspiracy theories. Lula's conviction and Dilma's impeachment were, in fact, legitimate. But such institutional atrocities happened in Brazil precisely for the economic crisis their governments had generated. It wasn't just the elite taking their revenge. The PT fell because of its own errors.

But when economic crises are too deep, democracy itself can collapse.

Politics and economics are independent forces that become related in the most complex form. Presidents are more likely not to be reelected when there is stagflation. Thus Dilma Rousseff almost lost in 2014 and Bolsonaro may lose next year.

But when economic crises are too deep, democracy itself can collapse. That happened to Brazil in 1964, and is a process that is again, regrettably underway since 2014. The PT's cherished, and mistaken, vision of recent history is strengthening Bolsonaro's authoritarian project and complementing the harm of his "necropolitics." Its narrative is blocking the possibility of a broad coalition of Brazilians, including PT supporters, who believe in democracy as a force that can free the country from Bolsonaro's autocratic aspirations.

The recession that began in 2010 was primarily the work of the PT, and Bolsonaro's rise to power, its consequence. To prevent history repeating itself, it is imperative for the guilty to recognize their mistakes.


*Weller is a lecturer in economics at the Getulio Vargas Foundation's School of Economics in Sao Paulo.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ