And so the news of the great love affair was declared in that bourgeois and unromantic space all whispered rumours eventually end in: political commentary on the Brazilian elections. The pairing, of course, is the joint ticket between former president and current frontrunner in the 2022 race, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his future Vice President, Geraldo Alckmin.
Like all great romances, it starts with some belligerent tension. The now happy couple were once fierce political rivals, fighting the 2006 elections against each other. Alckmin, then governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most prosperous state, ran on issues of corruption, a perennial Achilles heel in the Worker’s Party administrations, and made borderline prophetic accusations on the president’s character (Lula was briefly arrested for similar charges by an operation trialled by his current political rival, judge Sergio Moro, a factor in the events that led to the impeachment of his successor Dilma Rousseff). Lula, ever the wit, made wide use of the nickname “Chayote Popsicle” – a reference to Alckmin’s alleged beige, low-energy personality.
This deep family feud made the mere suggestion of such an union seem borderline sacrilegious. Lula was – and is – the creator and creature of the Brazilian left; his government its biggest success story and largest shadow, always a bridge too far for anyone even slightly on the right. Alckmin, on the other hand was a purebred tucano of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), openly derided by the left wing membership of the Workers Party and other activists as nothing short of fascist.
Even after the election of hard right populist Jair Bolsonaro there had been little desire for coordinated resistance between the two groups against his government even as the president openly threatened democracy itself and behaved in a borderline criminal manner during the Covid-19 pandemic; the Montagues and the Capulets would much rather share a cell in a dictatorship’s basement than five minutes of platform time.
Yet as early as last year there were signals that love had thawed their defences. Defeated in a humiliating fashion in the 2018 elections, Alckmin had been drifting from his original political home, dissatisfied with being passed over for candidates such as João Doria. News travelled of him being wooed by those surrounding newly-freed and increasingly popular Lula, and considering leaving his current party for a more centrist, occasional ally of the Workers Party. And if the pair was seen in a high profile dinner discussing politics when Alckmin did leave his political home of decades? If the man known for milquetoast manners found a sudden fire to praise his former rival in speech as a symbol of democracy? Well, ain’t nobody’s business if he does.
Equally, Lula was charmed. Gone was the man who had taken obvious delight in putting in the boot on Alckmin: this was Lula the generous, Lula the negotiator. Suddenly he had a deep, well-worn-by-the-ages respect for Alckmin. Was this not Alckmin a bland, anti-charismatic, unloveable entity? Not at all, crooned Lula. This was a changed man, a respectable political heavy-weight; in leftist parlance, this was a companheiro, the tender Brazilian term for partner and comrade. There they were then, grudges forgotten, nothing but love in their words: a couple united by the urgency of defeating Bolsonaro’s known and certain risks to the country.
One ought not look at matters of love cynically. However, should you be unable to avert those terrible thoughts of suspicion from your mind, you might be inclined to believe it was not a sudden whirlwind romance that took over the former rivals, but mutual interests. It is not Lula’s first marriage to a right wing type; his original VP, José Alencar was a multimillionaire businessman who made Alckmin seem positively Marxist.
This type of negotiation is what an operator as canny as the former president will no doubt see as necessary. Many on the left see the union as useless: it is Lula who people will vote for, not a two time loser who lost right wing hegemony to the Bolsonarista far-right. It is not a wholly empty argument. Aside from certain specific regions in the Sao Paulo state, the electoral allure of Alckimin is far from spectacular, and in any case the campaign will live or die on Lula’s (somewhat ageing) abilities.
Yet should he win the former president will find a much more radicalised Brazil than the one he inherited from Fernando Henrique Cardoso two decades ago; its Congress will likely be as tough and conservative as the one that impeached Dilma Rousseff; its military and police forces much more willing to flex their muscles; a judiciary system and a Supreme Court perfectly capable of sending him back to jail should the opportunity present itself.
Other sectors of the population have also journeyed to the right: namely the growing number of radical evangelicals who still see Bolsonaro as a representative of Christianity against threats such as gay rights and abortion, and crucially, the Brazilian business sector, which made perfectly clear it that democracy is secondary to getting the right to chop down some Amazonian trees and laxer legislation on workers rights. It will be to these post-election challenges that Lula will hope that Alckmin serves as a spoonful of sugar; the Vice President would function as a type of guarantee that Lula intends to govern in the softest of conciliatory tones, a balancing pole in the high-wire of governing Brazil.
Like the presence of Rebecca in the novel of the same name, the Lula-Alckmin ticket is haunted by a previous disastrous marriage: that of Dilma Rousseff and her VP, Michel Temer. Many on the left were quick to point that the Workers Party was once more trusting a politician with almost no ideological affinities not to betray him when the opportunity arose. The economic outlook for the country is grim whoever wins, and if the Brazilian people choose Lula, they will not do so based on an ideological popular clamour for leftist policy, but on their desire to not see their children starve.
Brazilian political marriages are short lived; it is very easy and fine to see an eventual Lula-Alckimin victory as dawn breaking to defeat the dark forces of Bolsonarismo. What incentives will there be for Alckmin and other political articulators to not get tempted by a brutal divorce, however, if in one or two years inflation continues to be high, unemployment grows, the economy shrinks and all the Workers Party has to show for is a concept of democracy that simply does not put food on the table? Better not think too hard, lest the lovers get cold feet. There is, after all, nothing as spectacular as the climax of a grand love story, except perhaps, its denouement.