Left wing has no response to Bolsonaro's popularity surge in poor areas

Though his administration was plagued with multiple corruption scandals, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains one of Brazil’s most popular politicians. His detractors claimed his support was a byproduct of wealth transfer policies, which they dismiss as ‘cash-for-votes’ schemes. Lula’s followers, on the other hand, claim this evaluation is classist and argue his popularity is down to an ensemble of progressive policies, particularly in Brazil’s poor Northeast — the only region of the country where lost in the 2018 election.

Now, however, Mr. Bolsonaro’s popularity is on the rise in the Northeast, according to several opinion polls, leaving Lula’s supporters dumbstruck. This rise in approval coincides with the creation of the coronavirus emergency salary in March, which paid a BRL 600 (USD 110) monthly stipend to unemployed and informal workers, preventing tens of millions from falling below the extreme poverty line.

In light of these polling numbers, the Workers’ Party central committee had to tell governors in the Northeast to “find a way to counter” Mr. Bolsonaro’s advances in the region.

Interestingly, the government was initially against the coronavirus aid program — having proposed just one-third of what is being paid to informal and unemployed workers, single mothers, and vulnerable populations. But the administration has excelled in reaping the benefits of the initiative, even though Congress arguably had a bigger hand in ensuring it was approved.

Lula and the left still have no strategy to fight Bolsonaro

“Their calculation, according to a top adviser within the party, is that they retain at least 30 percent of the electorate. That would be enough to take the party to the runoff stage in 2022, and anti-Bolsonaro sentiment would take care of winning the race for them,” Mr. Melo tells The Brazilian Report. “It is the same mistake they made in 2018,” he adds.

“This surge in popularity has a lot to do with the government’s intense propaganda to take ownership of a policy it didn’t create,” says Senator Humberto Costa, the opposition whip in the Senate. “The aid program will soon end. The economic crisis will worsen, unemployment rates will spike.”

Senator Rogério Carvalho, who, like Mr. Costa, belongs to the Workers’ Party, says the same. “That [rise] has a limit. This narrative will be deconstructed and he will face an even bigger crisis,” he told The Brazilian Report.

Curiously, that is the same strategy the center-right adopted 15 years ago, when the Lula administration was against the ropes, facing numerous corruption scandals and even talks of impeachment. The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) — the main opposition group at the time — decided to “let Lula bleed” until the 2006 campaign, when the PSDB hoped to retake the presidency.

Since day one of the Bolsonaro government, his detractors have predicted its imminent downfall. His administration, however, has proven to be surprisingly resilient — considering the sheer amount of controversy it has generated.

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