Lula’s popularity and a fractured opposition

The biggest asset to the ruling Workers’ Party ahead of Sunday’s election is the outgoing president.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won’t be on the ballot on Sunday when 136 million Brazilians cast a vote for president, but his famous Lula name will be – it just won’t be the president himself.

Meet Luiz da Silva. Not the president. But the candidate for the federal deputy from Lula’s Workers Party.

Not only is his name almost identical to that of the Brazilian president, but he even has the same thick beard and portly stature. His deep, scratchy voice is almost identical too. And he is even missing part of a finger just like President Lula da Silva.


Luiz ‘Lula’ da Silva, candidate for congress, and the man who looks a lot like the popular Brazilian president. Photo: Tatiana Polastri/Al Jazeera.

And just in case there was any doubt, Luiz da Silva (the congressional candidate, or ‘Lula Lookalike’ if you wish) even added ‘Lula’ to his name and that is what will appear on the ballot on Sunday.

Da Silva is one of the most common last names in all of Brazil. At least four candidates in Sunday’s national elections with the da Silva name have added ‘Lula’ (which means squid in Portuguese) to try to associate themselves even more closely to the popular president.

But Luiz da Silva – the congressional candidate – sticks out for his striking resemblance to the president, which has earned him a bit of international fame when Tom Phillips of the Guardian wrote this article about him in August.

Da Silva takes all the attention in stride.

“I prefer 10 times to be compared to Lula than (former president) Fernando Henrique Cardoso,” da Silva told Al Jazeera, bursting into laughter before adding, seriously. “Yes, I want people to vote for me because I look like Lula, but also I want people to know what I think about politics, what I am going to do in the senate.”

But Luiz da Silva, the Lula lookalike, represents something larger that is going on in Brazilian politics right now: How the popular president has become a larger-than-life figure that might, even without being on the ballot on Sunday, help carry his party and allies to a huge political majority and how a  fractured opposition has failed to find a message that appears to be connecting.

Lula da Silva’s Reign

It’s hard to overstate President Lula da Silva’s stature in Brazilian politics. For one, there is a whole generation of Brazilians who have grown up with Lula in presidential politics.  

In every presidential election since 1985 Lula has been a candidate (Lula lost to Fernando Collor in 1989 by five per cent lost to Fernando Henrique Cardoso both in 1994 and 1998 defeated Jose Serra in 2002 and easily defeated Geraldo Alckmin in 2006).

He is prohibited by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term.

In the past eight years, Lula da Silva has been given much credit for lifting 23 million Brazilians to the middle class, and helping reduce poverty rates to historically low levels. He has overseen the greatest economic boom in the modern history of the country, and has maintained his authentic connection to the working class, many of whom view him as almost a national hero.

“Certainly there won’t be any woman in this world who will be able to give birth to another man like Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,” Luciano Novaes, a worker in downtown Sao Paulo told Al Jazeera. “Because Lula has no equal. He is the only one.”

 “In the history of this country – in my opinion and in my analysis – there is no president of Brazil equal to Lula and there won’t be anybody better – ever,” said Angelo dos Santos.

“Lula has always had a close proximity to the Brazilian people…especially with those people who have suffered the most,” Paulo Frateschi, a senior Workers Party official told Al Jazeera.

“Lula had the experience of having it hard in life and he was always someone as president who could intermix with the people. During the political fight of the past 30 years Lula has been the candidate for almost all the elections, so people have an intimate relationship with the man.”

In a recent poll, about 80 per cent of Brazilians say President Lula da Silva has been doing a “good or great” job as president. Only about 15 per cent say he is doing an “average” job, and a miniscule five per cent say he has been a bad president.


Brazil’s Congress building in Brasilia, which soon might be overwhelmingly controlled by the Workers Party and allies. Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.

Tidal Wave of Support?

Lula’s party could dramatically increase its hold on power in Sunday’s elections – where voters will elect governors from all 26 states, all 513 federal deputies’ seats and 54 of the 81 senate seats.

The Worker’s Party, or candidates from other parties who have formed alliances with it, are leading the polls in 17 of the governorship races, as compared to five for opposition (five others are too close to call), according to an analysis by the Brazilian newsmagazine ISTOE.

In the senate, the Workers Party and allies are in position – if polling is correct – to control 58 seats compared to 23 for opposition and in the house  

In the lower house, the Workers Party and allies could gain as many as 401 seats compared to 112 for opposition.

And at the top of the ticket, Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s hand-picked candidate for president, has a chance to get the 50 per cent 1 needed to win the election on the first round of voting.

Rousseff has never held elected office, but has had on her side the one most valuable asset in all of Brazilian politics right now: Lula.

It’s simple, she is his candidate. Moulded and tutored as his chief of staff to become the next president.

Lula has been on the campaign trail with Rousseff on almost a daily basis, with a basic message: “Rousseff will carry on what I started she will be a continuation of my government.”

In the current political climate, given’s Lula’ s popularity, that is about as close to a “Game Over,” scenario as you can get. 


Lula campaigning for Dilma Rousseff, his candidate for president. Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera

“When you enter into public places during the campaign, people start screaming ‘Lula has arrived! Lula, Lula, Lula!’even if Lula is not there,” Frateschi said. “If there is a political pamphlet with Lula’s picture on it, people want to take it and they say, ‘I want to vote for the team of Lula. I want to vote for the people that Lula trusts.”
Even two recent corruption scandals involving Lula’s Workers Party have failed to upend Rousseff’s campaign.

One of the scandals allegedly involved officials in the national tax agency affiliated with the Workers Party illegally accessing private financial records of political opponents and family members. The other scandal involving Lula’s chief of staff (and close associate of Rousseff) allegedly involved a scheme to direct government contracts to a lobbying firm run by her son.

Lula, with his popularity, took on the crisis management of the scandals himself and Rousseff’s poll number have only fallen marginally. She was not directly linked to either scandal.


Interviewing Denis Rosenfield, a harsh Lula critic who says the opposition has failed. Photo: Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.

Brazil’s political opposition has been weak and ineffective at finding any strategy to counter his popularity, according to Denis Rosenfield, a philosophy professor and conservative syndicated columnist who is a harsh Lula critic.

“Brazil is in a situation right now where there is no political opposition,” Rosenfield told me recently from his office in Porto Alegre.

“The opposition to Lula was completely wrong and erred….They only oppose him during elections and this doesn’t work. The opposition does not know how to work public opinion like Lula. Right now politics in Brazil is like a tsunami against any Lula opposition.”

The main opposition candidate for president, Jose Serra, just recently started attacking Lula’s government after the corruption scandals came to light.

But before that, for months, Serra was reticent to go negative on Lula or Rousseff, and even featured his ‘close relationship’ to Lula in a campaign ad at one point.

But voters aren’t buying it, and clearly don’t see him as Lula’s candidate. His campaign is faltering badly

Back on the campaign trail…with the ‘other’ Lula

Luiz da Silva, the congressional candidate, is on the streets of downtown Sao Paulo laughing, and back-slapping potential voters.

He hands out flyers with his campaign literature, and promises voters that that he not only looks like Lula, but will also carry on Lula’s policies in congress. 

As Ricardo Figueiredo walks fast to work in downtown Sao Paulo one day recently, he sees Luiz da Silva and stops dead in his tracks. He thinks it’s the president. He stops to see what is going on. 

He is very similar looking to Lula,” Figueiredo says after a brief chat with the candidate. “I now have another working man from the people to vote for. Yes, he has my vote.”

For the few people who have the good political fortune to look, sound, and act like the president, this election is about trying to make President Lula da Silva’s political image live on just a little longer.

Even if the man himself is not on the ballot.

But by all appearances his party will be, in a big way, for a very long time.

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