When voting was closed on October 7, the results of Brazil's first round of presidential election votes and experts in…
When voting was closed on October 7, the results of Brazil’s first round of presidential election votes and experts in shock left. Jair Bolsonaro swept the floor with an astonishing 46 percent of the vote and transported dozens of candidates to state and national legislators on his call. In the second round of voting on Sunday he is ready to win the presidency.
Bolsonaro’s appearance seemed to surprise everyone. An obscure congressional leader whose extremist political proposals and dew style lay far beyond what is believed to be acceptable in Brazil’s political mainstream has driven a campaign likely to end up in the driver’s seat of one of the world’s largest democracies. More shocking is that he will not win it on the backside of a minority of radical maniacs but on a wave of support from the majority of voters.
For all his scary rhetoric and actions, Bolsonaro has managed to appeal to voters in addition to his hardcore right bass. Millions of voters who would normally have cast their votes in favor of centrist candidates plan to vote for him this time.
Think about the results of the first round of the elections in the state of São Paulo. Giving 53 percent of the vote, Bolsonaro introduced a humiliating defeat of the four-year governor, center-right Geraldo Alckmin, who ended up securing only 9.5 percent of the vote. After winning the leadership of successive landslides in 201
0 and 2014, Alckmin saw a large portion of his base deficit and voted for Bolsonaro.
Something similar happened to left-wing candidate Marina Silva. Back in 2014, Silva, who is black, won the first round of elections in states like the Acre and the Federal District. Bolsonaro took both states in 2018 with large margins (62 percent and 58 percent respectively) and Silva ended up only 1 percent of the total vote.
Equally impressive was Bolsonaro’s view in the northeast, one of the poorest regions in the country and the central geographic base for the workers’ party (PT). Although NPT candidate Fernando Haddad won eight out of nine northeastern states in the first round of the election, Bolsonaro surpassed him in the five largest capitals of these states. The results surprised many observers, considering Bolsonaro’s recurring insults against black brazilians, which make up a large part of the population there.
Bolsonaro also won nearly 53 percent of the vote in Rio Grande do Sul, which four years earlier had given a clear victory in the first round. His appeal, beyond the far right, points to a deeper transformation in Brazilian politics. In an election year where the dominant popular feeling is political class anger, he drives a wave of popular dissatisfaction.
The wave Bolsonaro as a riding has four elements to it.
First, voters seem to be ready for a more conservative set of politics than before, coinciding with the rapid growth of evangelical denominations across Brazil (for 30 percent of voters 2015, most of them pingst). Issues of ethnicity, gender and sexuality have emerged, with cultural war raging in ways that are unusual in Brazil. Bolsonaro wants to regulate morale.
He says he will defend “family values” and that “gay propaganda” threatens children‘s virginity at school. He is a strong opponent of the decriminalization of abortion and drugs. Strangely, his conservative brand has not prevented him from expressing these problems through rude jokes about rape, LGBT people, black and domestic brazilians in ways that were unacceptable in the Brazilian public sphere long ago.
Secondly, the wake about economic decline and growth in unemployment in recent years created a backlash of income distribution and confirmation measures favoring poor and black Brazilians introduced by former administrations.
Thirdly, the vascular epidemic that has transformed Brazil into one of the most dangerous countries in the world has given rise to widespread support for harder police work. Bolsonaro has supported the use of torture against criminals and has talked positively about killing squads – and many voters do not seem to think. Memories of police abuse back in the country’s dictatorial days have been blown away among voters who are too young to get a reminder of authoritarianism or first-hand experience with a police state.
Fourth, as in many countries, the populist surplus enjoys wrong information, false news and hearsay. This walker has been dominated by lies coming from both right and left via WhatsApp. And very WhatsApp, rather than Facebook or Twitter, is now the lead for heated political debate among families and friends in Brazil. While Twitter and Facebook have made some efforts to uncover spells, veterinary records and crack down on fake news, WhatsApp is completely unfiltered. There is no intermediary that prevents users from sending lies to their relatives.
This is particularly worrying as it comes to a time when Brazil’s traditional media institutions are in crisis. The once-influential media group Abril filed for bankruptcy this year, and other major national newspapers collect either growing deficits or relying on sister companies for the purpose of meeting. Media companies have also had difficulty adapting to online news and new technologies, and they seem to develop a serious credibility issue. During the past few weeks of campaigns, abuse and violence against journalists have been common and Bolsonaro has been angry with the press.
Bolsonaro runs a campaign on a handful of promises that hit most Brazilian voters: a harder crime, a radical economic reform to reduce unemployment and falling incomes, a conservative social moral trip and undoubted support for corruption action.
Of all the candidates offered, Bolsonaro is the only one who has signaled its commitment to honor those promises. Both the style and content of his signals are horrendous, but they show insignificant commitment to change. For example, consider his promise to fight crime: He has talked a lot about extrajudicial death squads and has told security forces that they will find protection under his watch to release violence against criminals.
On economic reform, he has appointed the University of Chicago-educated economist Paulo Guedes, who has made wild promises of a Maximalist Neoliberal Agenda. On social issues, he has attacked minorities and has shouted at more than one occasion that they must bow to the majority. Bolsonaro has also received a type of homophobic hysteria that seems to test Brazil’s famous tolerance for difference. And as regards the rule of law, one of Bolsonaro’s sons threatened to abolish the Supreme Court during a campaign period. (He later entered the statement.)
In a country where support for political parties and democratic norms has fallen to historical low, Bolsonaro has nicely tailored a message that appeals to the few institutions that are still popularly respectful: the family, Church and Armed Forces.
Brazil’s democratic regime was created in the 1980s by a generation that worked to weaken the extremities and strengthen the center. Convergence in the middle contributed in time to reducing inflation and economic instability, laying the foundations for a minimalist welfare state and even creating modest growth at home.
But that was not all positive. A strict scandal lifted the veil on the political system. Brazilians now know that voice purchases, clienteleism and protection are essential features of the existing system. Collaboration between political dynasties, party bosses and interest groups is the rule of the game. In order to make matters worse, representatives of the national chamber’s lower chamber are chosen on open proportional elections, which greatly reduces the division of responsibility to their electorate.
Things started raging in 2013 when millions of people took the streets to protest a series of corruption scandals that bring politicians over the political spectrum. As prosecutors revealed a recourse system where large corporate conglomerates bought political benefits through bribes and secret campaign funding for about $ 10 billion, the country became stuck in a polarizing political crisis. The Lava Jato (Car Wash) Probe revealed how former presidents in Brazil bought support from the Congress to pass legislation and landed several prisoners in prison – including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula.
Then Dilma Rousseff’s divorce came in 2016. Her traitor accused her and her party of collecting a large-scale graft system to tear the public coupons. The fractions that worked to prevent her exploited the usual dissatisfaction with the government to come to power and implement policies that had not received popular support in the votes. Finally, in early 2018, Lula was convicted of corruption charges.
Overall, these events opened the field for a more ideological, militant type of politics. Economic difficulties, corruption scandals and lack of state responsibility paved the way for an anti-system message. And Bolsonaro fits the bill with its mark of polarizing populism.
Bolsonaro has proved to be a cool campaigner who knows how to occupy the empty space that opened as the old Brazilian regime imploded. Like Donald Trump in the United States, he is not the cause of popular anger but its symptoms.
If Brazilian institutions will be able to handle Bolsonaro’s authoritarian instincts is not a given. According to Latinobarómetro pollen, the proportion of Brazilians who say “democracy is always preferable” is low.
If Bolsonaro wins, he can either attempt to undermine the old system by abandoning the given and given task characteristic of political culture in the country, in which case he must appeal directly to the people or he can try to restore the old ways to do things and face the consequences. However, Brazil is facing a depressing, uneven path ahead.