(NEW YORK) — Brazil’s voters on Sunday chose a new president: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known by the name Lula.
Lula narrowly beat out Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent far-right president who has become infamous during four years in office for accelerating the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, as well as for his administration’s handling of the pandemic. Brazil suffered the world’s second-highest death toll from COVID-19, behind the U.S.
Although Bolsnaro did not officially concede the election during public remarks Tuesday, and has in the past spread myths questioning the integrity of elections in the country, Lula is expected to be sworn in on Jan. 1.
So who is Brazil’s new president?
Lula is a former labor organizer and founding member of the country’s Workers’ Party. He served two terms as the president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and left office with an approval rating of 80%.
During his presidency, he expanded social welfare programs including a vast family assistance program, raised the minimum wage, grew the economy and expanded trade. His programs are estimated to have lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty and grown the country’s middle class.
He was known as a pragmatic negotiator, helping to expand foreign markets for Brazilian goods such as meat and soybeans. Former President Barack Obama once called him “one of the most popular politicians on Earth.”
The country’s constitution prohibited Lula from running for a third term, and he helped elect his former energy minister and close ally Dilma Rousseff as president. She would become the country’s first female president.
Despite his popularity, his presidency was marred by a number of public scandals including revelations the Workers’ Party was paying a monthly bribe, or “mensalão” to political officials, and “Operation Car Wash,” a multi-year criminal investigation into dealings of the state-owned oil company Petrobras along with dozens of individuals in public and private sectors.
He was convicted on charges of corruption and money laundering, and eventually arrested in 2018. Lula maintained that he was innocent. He spent a year and a half in prison before his charges were annulled in 2021 by a Supreme Federal Court decision that found the judge in the case had been biased against him.
Lula tried to run for president in 2018 but a court denied his candidacy due to his imprisonment. Bolsonaro, a former military officer and conservative Congressman who ran on a far-right platform, won the presidential election.
Lula was born to a poor family in northeast Brazil, moving to the metropolis of São Paulo with his family at a young age. He only achieved a middle school education and began working at a very young age, first as a shoe-shiner and then in factories. While working in the metal industry he first became involved in union organizing.
He would go on to serve as the leader of a steel-workers union, helping to organize strikes during the military rule in the late 1970s. The military dictatorship in Brazil lasted from 1964 to 1985.
In 1980, he helped found the national political party, the Workers’ Party, alongside other union leaders, politicians, organizers and intellectuals. The Workers’ Party helped to organize a campaign and social movement called “Diretas Já!” in 1984, which advocated for the country’s presidents to be elected by popular vote.
Lula held his first political office in 1986, when he was elected to Congress. His party helped to draft the country’s new Constitution, which was ratified in 1988.
He ran for president unsuccessfully three times, beginning in the 1989 election, before being elected in 2002.
In 2011, Lula was diagnosed with throat cancer, for which he underwent successful chemotherapy. He has been married three times, marrying his third wife, Rosangela Silva, in May of this year.
He campaigned on reducing the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, tackling climate change and expanding social welfare services, including increasing taxes on the rich.
“I consider myself a citizen who has had a process of resurrection in Brazilian politics,” Lula said in his victory speech Sunday night. “They tried to bury me alive.”
“I am here to govern in a very difficult situation,” he added. “But I have faith in God that, with our people’s help, we will find a way out for this country.”
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