Lula returns for third term as Brazil President, Bolsonaro breaks tradition, flies to US

By AFP

BRASILIA: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is set to be inaugurated Sunday for a third term as Brazil’s president, in a ceremony snubbed by outgoing leader Jair Bolsonaro, underlining the deep divisions the veteran leftist inherits.

The swearing-in will cap a remarkable political comeback for 77-year-old Lula, who returns to the presidential palace less than five years after being jailed on controversial, since-quashed corruption charges.

In a sign of the scars that remain from Lula’s brutal election showdown with far-right ex-army captain Bolsonaro in October, security will be exceptionally tight at the pomp-filled ceremony in Brasilia. Some 8,000 police have been deployed after a Bolsonaro supporter was arrested last week for planting a tanker truck rigged with explosives near the capital’s airport, a plot he said aimed to “sow chaos” in the South American country.

Bolsonaro himself left Brazil for the US state of Florida Friday — reportedly to avoid having to hand the presidential sash to his bitter enemy, as tradition dictates.

The snub has hardly dampened the party spirit for Lula and the 300,000 people expected at the New Year’s Day ceremony and a massive celebration concert that will feature acts ranging from samba legend Martinho da Vila to drag queen Pabllo Vittar.

Thousands of Lula supporters from around the country formed massive lines to filter through the security cordon, belting out pro-Lula chants as they waited. “I’m excited beyond measure,” retired teacher Zenia Maria Soares Pinto, 71, told AFP after travelling 30 hours by bus from the southern state of Santa Catarina.

“I have so much admiration for his humility, his commitment to ensuring the people live in dignity,” added Pinto, part of a crowd cheering for Lula outside the hotel where the ex-metalworker turned president was staying.

Machine operator Valter Gildo, 46, called it a “historic day.”

“Today marks the return of a working man to the presidential palace, someone who fights for social causes, for minorities, against racism and homophobia, a person who represents Brazil,” he said.

Foreign dignitaries including 19 heads of state will be in attendance as Lula, who previously led Brazil through a watershed boom from 2003 to 2010, takes the oath of office for a new four-year term at 3:00 pm (1800 GMT). They include the presidents of a raft of Latin American countries, Germany, Portugal and the king of Spain.

After being sworn in before Congress, Lula will travel by car — traditionally a black convertible Rolls Royce, though officials said that could be changed for security reasons — to the ultra-modern capital’s presidential palace, the Planalto.

There, he will walk up a ramp to the entrance and receive the gold- and diamond-embroidered presidential sash. Organizers of the ceremony — led by first lady-to-be Rosangela “Janja” da Silva — have kept secret who will give Lula the sash in Bolsonaro’s absence. It will be the first time since the end of Brazil’s 1965-1985 military dictatorship that an incoming president does not receive the yellow-and-green sash from his predecessor.

ALSO READ | ‘Our phoenix’: Lula’s ups and downs in Brazil defy belief

Pressing to-do list

Lula faces numerous urgent challenges for Latin America’s biggest economy, which looks little like the commodities-fueled dynamo he led in the 2000s. They include rebooting economic growth, curbing rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest and delivering on his ambitious agenda to fight poverty and inequality.

Vice president-elect Geraldo Alckmin described the incoming administration’s task as “herculean.”

Markets are meanwhile watching nervously how Lula will fund his promised social spending, given Brazil’s overstretched government finances.

Lula will face a Congress dominated by Bolsonaro’s conservative allies. In a sign of how polarized the country remains, far-right hardliners have been protesting outside army bases ever since Lula’s narrow runoff win on October 30, calling for a military intervention to keep him from taking power.

The new president will have to act “assertively” in his first 100 days to show where “Lula Part Three” is headed, said political scientist Leandro Consentino. “His election win was very tight, and he’ll face a divided country and a combative opposition. He’ll have to lead a national unity government and restore the peace,” he said.

ALSO READ | Lula’s push to boost spending in Brazil rattles markets

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