Lula returns to office in a troubled, divided Brazil

Bolsonaro left the country in an attempt to hold the sash from the newly elected leader.

 Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his wife Rosangela Lula da Silva, also know as Janja, react at an election night gathering on the day of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 30, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AMANDA PEROBELLI)
Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his wife Rosangela Lula da Silva, also know as Janja, react at an election night gathering on the day of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 30, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMANDA PEROBELLI)

Leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be sworn in as president of Brazil on Sunday under tightened security in the Brazilian capital following threats of violence by supporters of his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

The ceremony in Congress begins at 3 p.m. (1800 GMT), after which Lula will go to the Planalto palace to don the presidential sash before a crowd of 30,000 supporters, while some 300,000 are expected to gather to celebrate on Brasilia's esplanade.

Lula, 77, narrowly defeated Bolsonaro in October to win an unprecedented third presidential term after a hiatus that saw him spend a year and a half behind bars on corruption convictions that were later overturned.

In his previous years as Workers Party (PT) president from 2003-2010, the former union leader lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty during a commodity boom that buoyed the economy.

Now, he faces the daunting challenge of improving Brazil's stagnant economy while also uniting a country that has become painfully polarized under Bolsonaro.

 Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) welcomes his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during an official meeting in Tehran May 16, 2010.  (credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI) Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) welcomes his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during an official meeting in Tehran May 16, 2010. (credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)

"A lot is expected of Lula. He'll have the difficult mission to restore normality and predictability in Brazil, and above all to rapidly deliver results that improve the quality of life for its inhabitants," said Creomar de Souza, director of Dharma Political Risk consultancy in Brasilia.

Bolsonaro did not want to pass the baton

Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida on Friday, avoiding having to hand over the sash to his rival, whose victory he has yet to recognize, while also removing himself from any immediate legal risks related to his time in office.

His supporters have protested for two months that the election was stolen and called for a military coup to stop Lula returning to office in a climate of vandalism and violence.

One supporter was arrested for making a bomb that was discovered on a truck laden with aviation fuel at the entrance to Brasilia airport, and confessed he was seeking to sow chaos to provoke a military intervention.

In a thinly veiled dig, acting President Hamilton Mourao, who was Bolsonaro's vice president, criticized his former boss for failing to lead the country and allowing anti-democratic sentiment to thrive after his October defeat at the polls.

"Leaders who were supposed to reassure and unite the nation ... allowed silence or inopportune and deleterious protagonism to create an atmosphere of chaos and social disintegration," Mourao said in a speech on Saturday night.

Mourao defended Bolsonaro's four years in power for leaving a strong economy, but criticized environmental backsliding after deforestation in the Amazon reached a 15-year-high.

As tens of thousands of Lula supporters arrived in central Brasilia for Sunday's celebrations, authorities deployed 10,000 police and troops to reinforce security and search participants, who cannot bring bottles, cans, flag masts or toy guns. Carrying firearms by civilians was also temporarily banned.

"Leaders who were supposed to reassure and unite the nation ... allowed silence or inopportune and deleterious protagonism to create an atmosphere of chaos and social disintegration,"

President Hamilton Mourao

Organizers said delegations from 50 nations and 19 heads of state and governments, including the king of Spain, have confirmed their attendance.

On Friday, before flying to Florida, Bolsonaro delivered a teary address to the nation in which he condemned the bomb plot as a "terrorist act" but praised his supporters who camped outside army barracks across the country calling for a coup.