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Navigating the Crossroads: Lula's First 100 Days

Bruna Santos

In the first 100 days of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's presidency, Brazil faced a whirlwind of challenges that tested its leader's resolve. During the first three months of the new administration, the Wilson Center's Brazil Institute and The Brazilian Report joined efforts to observe, analyze, and interpret for a foreign audience the challenges Lula faced in this period.

The new administration has a shaky coalition and is dealing with a conservative Congress. Thus, it faces challenges in trying to recover from a faltering economy and a growing hunger crisis. Across the Western world, we see democracies under strain, economic growth proving elusive, and polarized societies demanding more than their governments can deliver. For Lula, who built his campaign on nostalgia for the boom of the 2000s, expectations may have been destined for disappointment. 

The razor-thin margin of victory in the 2022 election, won by less than two percentage points, set the stage for ongoing tensions, with opposition forces leveling allegations of electoral fraud despite having no evidence to support their claims. One week after taking office, Lula was rocked by the January 8 riots, which saw pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators storming the buildings that house Brazil's three branches of government. 

Confronted with this precarious situation, Lula's primary challenge has been to foster unity while promoting progress and safeguarding Brazil's democratic norms and institutions. To this end, he has supported a comprehensive, judiciary-led investigation into the events of January 8 and vowed to govern in the interest of all Brazilians. 

Nevertheless, Lula's policy agenda faces an uphill battle. From now on, the president must deftly navigate this complex legislative environment to advance his policy goals and enact meaningful change. Lula's coalition is fragile, and the conservative nature of Brazil's Congress further complicates matters. The president will have to exhibit tactful political maneuvering to build consensus and push through his agenda. 

It has been a time of transition, as the country grapples with the aftermath of the Bolsonaro era and seeks to reestablish itself on the world stage. From rekindling ties with traditional allies and navigating the ambivalence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to juggling domestic challenges and charting a path for economic growth, Lula's Brazil is striving to redefine itself in the face of both opportunity and adversity. 

Lula’s efforts to position Brazil as a mediator in global conflicts, particularly the Ukraine crisis, while simultaneously seeking to strengthen ties with China, draw parallels to Brazil’s diplomacy of the 2000s. As we move forward, further analysis sheds light on the challenges and trade-offs associated with Brazil’s pursuit of a more influential role on the global stage. 

The first 100 days of Lula's presidency have been a baptism by fire, and the achievements appear modest. A semblance of normalcy has returned to Brazil's political landscape, but progress on key agenda items could be faster. As we explore these intricate dynamics, we recognize that Lula's decisions are influenced by political legacies and the need for both symbolic and substantive change. 

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About the Author

Bruna Santos

Bruna Santos

Director, Brazil Institute
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Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and US institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more