Former Brazilian presidents Lula Da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.Ricardo Stuckert / Instituto Lula

Former President Luiz Inácio da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso showed a political harmony on Friday that is unprecedented since the end of the dictatorship in 1985. A photo uploaded to social networks showed them side by side, wearing masks, clashing fists, after years of grudges, confrontations and barely punctual dialogues. They have been united by a common enemy: far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Since he returned to the political game, former President Lula da Silva has been open to dialogue with everyone – even with those who supported the impeachment by Dilma Rousseff – and signaled her willingness to bring the Workers’ Party (PT) further to the center, if necessary. Lula has made a successful tour of Brasilia and has already announced that next week the agenda will be with social movements. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the most important former president of the redemocratization along with Lula himself, also decided to make a gesture. After the 2018 campaign in which he avoided supporting the PT Fernando Haddad against Jair Bolsonaro, the social democrat said in a television interview that he would support Lula in a possible second round of elections against Bolsonaro next year. It was the signal to break the last resistance.

The result was seen this Friday, when Lula’s social networks published a symbolic photo. Both politicians met for a lunch “with a lot of democracy on the menu” at the invitation of Nelson Jobim. The host has an unbeatable curriculum to put an end to distances: he was Lula’s Defense Minister and Cardoso’s Minister of Justice. Jobim is a connoisseur of political entanglements and legal matters in the highest courts of the country. “The former presidents had a long conversation about Brazil, democracy and the negligence of the Bolsonaro government in confronting the pandemic,” says the text of the message.

The message spread like wildfire. “Our differences are much smaller than our historical duty to defeat Bolsonaro,” wrote deputy Marcelo Freixo of the leftist Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). “It is time to dialogue and build consensus, because what is at stake is democracy and the lives of Brazilians. Congratulations to Lula and Cardoso for the gesture of greatness and responsibility with the country ”, he continued. Freixo’s interpretation is the most obvious: the rapprochement between the two can remedy the problems of all attempts to form a “broad front” against Bolsonaro: the two great leaders were not in either of them.

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After the meeting, Cardoso had to deal with his own party, the fractured PSDB (of social democratic origin, but with long conservative fringes) and the discomfort of the candidates for the presidential candidacy next year: the governor of São Paulo, João Doria, and the one from Rio Grande do Sul, Eduardo Leite. The head of Rio Grande do Sul was explicit: “Talking to everyone is the premise of those who want to end the ‘us against them.” But I do not accept that Brazil is going backwards. I trust that Fernando Henrique Cardoso will not do it either ”. Immediately afterwards, the former president had to go to the networks to give explanations: “The PSDB must launch its own candidate and I will support him.” But if his party, which had the worst performance in the presidential campaign in 2018 under Geraldo Alckmin, does not advance to the second round, then Cardoso will press 13 (the number that represents the PT) at the electronic polls, he warned.

Discomfort, however, was already in the air. The public annoyance of the Social Democrats was evident when Lula regained his political rights in March and April, when the Supreme Court overturned his convictions in Operation Lava Jato. Lula is now beginning to show strength in the polls. With the former president back in the race for the presidency and with Bolsonaro still showing notable resistance among his rank and file, the space for new “center” names has shrunk.

In the polls leading to the 2022 elections, no name emerges from that “center” or “neither-nor” (neither Lula nor Bolsonaro). As the Atlas investigation for EL PAÍS showed, Governor Doria does not take off even in the State he governs, despite his successful role in the vaccination campaign against covid-19. Andrei Roman, director of the Atlas, however, sees in Leite a potential as a “surprise effect”, since it is not known in the country and has no rejection.

Another name on the left, Ciro Gomes, of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), who is still in open friction with Lula and the PT, is not taking off either. Gomes looks for his opportunity by presenting himself as the “Brazilian Joe Biden”, despite being at the antipodes of the US president in terms of temperament. The commitment to Luciano Huck, television presenter, is increasingly distant since he is about to occupy the most visible time in the powerful TV Globo Sundays – definitively finishing the idea of ​​the candidacy.

It is in this context that the presidential election, so far, has been configured as a battle of rejections. Does antipetism win, as in 2018, or anti-Bolsonarism? In this confrontation, this Friday’s photo of Lula and Cardoso is an asset of the PT. Cardoso draws a new line and dynamites the false theory of the “two demons” that he embraced in 2018. With democracy on the menu, Cardoso is left with Lula.

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