The former industrial worker Luis Inacio Lula da Silva took over as the President of Brazil in 2002, with a resounding declaration: “I cannot fail. The poor in Brazil have waited 500 years for someone like me.” As Morales has made similar statements, and faces similar challanges, it is pertinent to remember the lessons from Lula’s three year old reign that is now under fire on corruption charges, besides not fulfilling its promises. The key, according to Sue Branford and Hilary Wainwright, is to trust its social base and not fall in the trappings of electoral rat race.
Where did the PT government go wrong? Most commentators agree that the rot set in long before Lula’s victory in October 2002. The party’s original base – the industrial working class – was weakened in the 90s by rocketing unemployment as successive administrations enforced IMF edicts. Instead of trying to build a new base among the unorganised rural and urban poor, the PT increasingly used the same methods for winning elections as every other party – even hiring the same spin doctors. This required money (hence the slush fund) and led to a concentration of power in a centralised leadership. The practice of involving the membership was eventually abandoned.
This growing obsession with electoral success at any price meant that the PT failed to prepare properly for government.