Interview. The leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement said there is slim chance Bolsonaro can win in the runoff after gaining 6 million fewer votes than Lula. ‘Lula must now build a broad anti-fascist front to win the presidency.’

João Pedro Stedile: I am confident progressive energies will ensure Lula’s victory

The day after, there is an atmosphere of disbelief. It was supposed to be the great celebration of the return of Lula, sem medo de ser feliz (“with no fear of being happy”) as a song goes – but instead, there’s a lot of fear of seeing that happiness slip away. It turns out that Bolsonarism has been underestimated, that it is alive and well, that more than 40% of the electorate – despite everything they have witnessed in these four years – has chosen to place its bet once again on the most unpalatable president in the history of Brazil (and his ministers, parliamentarians and governors).

But among Lula’s entourage, there’s no room for pessimism: “Bolsonaro lost today and he will lose on October 30,” said the National President of the Workers’ Central Organization (CUT), Sérgio Nobre.

Similarly, João Pedro Stedile, with whom we spoke, the leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) that Bolsonaro has fought mercilessly, is not discouraged, and tells us he’s convinced the celebration has only been postponed.

There were high expectations for a victory in the first round. How much more complicated is the situation now?

Not that much. Lula was 1.7% from winning outright and can count on an advantage of 6 million votes, despite all the resources that Bolsonaro has been able to count on, the money doled out in spades, the incessant fake news campaign. I am confident that the progressive energies present in Brazilian society will ensure Lula’s victory on October 30.

After the many kinds of horrors he’s been responsible for, Bolsonaro was still voted by more than 43% of the voters. How is this possible?

It’s because this year he has allocated $8 billion (44 billion reais) of public funds to his deputies (the so-called “secret budget”), who distributed them to mayors so that they could finance their electoral campaign in their municipalities. These votes come from the right-wing control over state governments and electoral structures, with the sole objective of trying to prevent Lula’s return.

In any case, I believe that while the vote for Lula can still grow in several states and among the poorer sections of the population, Bolsonaro no longer has much margin to grow. Even the representatives of the agribusiness model, despite the government’s clear support for the predatory latifundia, is divided, because a part of them, although a minority, fears that Bolsonaro’s policies will end up compromising the export of raw materials: for example, the European Union is going to ban deforestation-related products from entering its market. It’s a sector that wants change.

Congress will be dominated by conservative forces. Won’t a Lula government be affected in what it can do?

It won’t be a more conservative Congress than the current one. The balance of power remains the same, and, if nothing else, the left has increased its parliamentary representation a little. The impression that Bolsonaro has won comes from the fact that his party has collected most of the right-wing votes. It is true that several former Bolsonaro ministers were elected, but the PT also managed to get a number of senators elected, especially in the Northeast.

Lula must now build a broad anti-fascist front to win the presidency. And then come up with an emergency plan to lead the country out of the multiple crises it is facing.

How was the campaign? Were mistakes made?

Lula did his part. What was lacking was greater determination on the part of the militants to create a popular anti-fascist wave. In most of the capitals, the climate was not very heated, there was little propaganda, the debates on the project for the country were missing, which is what is at stake. We expect that in the run-up to the second round, the militants will commit with greater force to the grassroots-level work: to the task of going from house to house, of bringing propaganda into the streets.

What did it mean for the MST to run 15 candidates of its own for the first time?

The MST has always participated in elections, supporting various candidates. What is new is that this time, in a number of states, there were leaders who felt motivated to run for office themselves, although, as MST, we also campaigned for many who were not from our ranks.

And the outcome was very positive: in all the states we managed to get candidates who had our support elected, and, among our leaders who ran for office, only two didn’t succeed. In Ceará, the lawyer Elmano de Freitas, who has always taken care of our juridical and political defense, was elected governor. Edegar Preto, son of a historical leader of the MST, missed the runoff in Rio Grande do Sul by just 2,500 votes. In Pernambuco, our candidate Rosa Amorim, a young 25-year-old Black woman and lesbian, was elected state representative.

Bolsonaro fought against you from the beginning. How did you keep going?

The government declared war on all family farming, denying it any form of support and putting a stop to land reform. The result has been rising food prices and the return of hunger and unemployment. No matter what, the MST continues to resist. We have not managed to bring agricultural reform to any region, but we have continued to produce healthy food, adopting agroecology and promoting our agricultural cooperatives. And society stands with us and is protecting us from repression. In short, Bolsonaro, has not been able to destroy the movement, as he said he would do four years ago.

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