Despite Lula’s broad establishment support and the odds continuing to favor him in the second round, Bolsonaro still has a strong chance of winning. That the mainstream media outside of Brazil misunderstood the country’s mood, or, more specifically, the degree to which it was nearly evenly divided between Lula and Bolsonaro supporters, is predictable. With a few exceptions—Michael Reid in The Economist (as always), and, on the left, Benjamin Fogel in Jacobin and The Brazilian report—Brazil is regularly misreported, not only in the English-speaking world, but also in the Spanish-speaking world. Part of it has to do with the language, but part of it can also be explained by the fact that in many ways Brazil resembles India – not so much a country as a world. There are other Portuguese-speaking countries – Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and, of course, Portugal itself – but Brazil is remarkably culturally self-sufficient, and Brazilians themselves grant little pay attention to the rest of the world, even to countries like Argentina. and Paraguay with which the Brazilian economy – and much of its ecology – is inextricably linked.
Small wonder, then, that the reaction to Lula’s failure to defeat Bolsonaro in the first round in the left-wing press in the US and UK and in left-wing newspapers across America Spanish-speaking Latin (the Kirchnerist Page12 in Argentina was particularly egregious in this regard) was a mixture of dismay and denial. In itself, consternation was of little consequence. But the repeated claims that as long as Lula beats Bolsonaro in the second round, Brazil would be on a new and positive path, when in fact all a Lula victory will guarantee is that the situation in Brazil won’t get much worse than it is now just a prophylactic against understanding what really happened.
This does not mean that a victory for Lula will be without consequence. Benjamin Fogel was quite right to insist on the fact, despite the disappointment of Lula’s failure to win the election in the first round, the strong likelihood that he would win in the second offered hope that, as he said, Brazil could be pulled out of “the ‘abyss’ of a new environmental catastrophe and the consolidation of a government without a serious commitment to democracy. But even if Lula’s electoral prospects seem excellent, the results of the first round in the legislative and gubernatorial elections tell an entirely different story, that of a landslide victory for the right in the elections for both houses of Brazil’s Congress. The fact is that voters in these elections supported the right all over Brazil, with the sole exception of Lula’s stronghold in the impoverished northeast of the country. If, at the national level, voters coldly attacked one group, it was on the left, not on the right. Despite slight gains for Lula’s Workers’ Party, the PT, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, the PL, won 99 seats out of 513 in Brazil’s lower house (up from 77), and in the party system fragmented Brazil, right-wing parties now control about half of the chamber. In the Brazilian Senate, it’s even worse: over there, the right won the majority.