Analysis-Lula turns to party's old guard for Brazil election battle


  • World
  • Saturday, 07 May 2022

FILE PHOTO: Former Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will run in October's elections, takes part in an event organized by labor unions during Workers Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Brazil's leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has turned to veteran comrades in his Workers Party (PT) to run his presidential campaign, shoring up his base after appeals to the center raised tensions with the party's old guard.

Although Lula has lured moderate voters with a centrist running mate and calls for a broad center-left coalition in the October election, the most senior roles in his campaign are so far going to his longtime associates and former PT ministers, party sources told Reuters.

Political analysts say he is doubling down on experienced party operators to reassure the left wing of his party and empower trusted campaign veterans in the face of slipping polls.

An opinion survey last week showed Lula's advantage over his main opponent, President Jair Bolsonaro, has shrunk to five percentage points from 14 points three months ago, as Bolsonaro has boosted welfare spending and traveled the country.

Pollster PoderData found Lula would still win a potential second-round runoff, but his narrowing margin has stirred grumbling among allies. If neither candidate wins a majority on Oct. 2, a run-off would be held four weeks later.

"Lula is hitting the brakes. He is setting limits to his wide coalition, and these old-timers are there to draw the line," said Andre Cesar, an analyst at political consultancy Hold Assessoria Legislativa. "It's a show of strength, to make it clear that he is still in command."

Lula has spent months forging alliances with a half dozen other parties, culminating in the choice of centrist former Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin – his rival in the 2006 election – as his running mate. That showed Lula was serious about a broad coalition, but raised questions about what concessions he made.

Now Lula is calling on old Workers Party hands such as former minister Gilberto Carvalho to rally social movements in support of Lula's presidential bid, party sources told Reuters.

"We cannot ignore the experience of people who worked on four successful elections," said one person involved in organizing the leadership of Lula's campaign, which will formally launch in August.

The group includes former PT President Rui Falcao, lawmakers Paulo Teixeira and Jose Guimaraes, and the party's current hard-line President Gleisi Hoffmann, who will be the overall campaign manager, PT leadership sources said.

Lula spokesman Jose Crispiniano said the team in command of his campaign will be announced on Saturday when the PT will hold a rally in Sao Paulo to gather momentum for his presidential bid.

"Lula has had to move toward the center... but he must also nod to the party's left that is largely represented by Rui Falcao, or else he will have problems later," said Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the FGV think tank.

Another party veteran in a key campaign post is Aloizio Mercadante, head of a PT think tank charged with drawing up the program for a new Lula government. Mercadante was chief of staff for Dilma Rousseff, Lula's hand-picked successor who was impeached in 2016 in the midst of economic recession.

Both Lula and Bolsonaro have been in campaign mode for months, but are limited in their official campaign activities by Brazilian election law.

Lula will then start traveling around Brasil, PT sources said. Alckmin will join him in the swing state of Minas Gerais and closely contested southern states before focusing his efforts in the interior of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state and home to the former governor's political base.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony BoadleWriting by Anthony BoadleEditing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O'Brien and Leslie Adler)

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