A former army captain who misses dictatorship and has been described as the “Brazilian Trump” is into the run-off for the Brazilian presidential election.
Jair Bolsonaro, leader of the Social Liberal Party, won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s Brazilian elections. It is not enough to earn an outright majority, so Bolsonaro will face Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party on the 28th of October. Haddad won 29 percent of the first-round vote, and polls indicate that the two candidates would be tied if they faced off against each other.
In doing so, Brazil will experience an additional three weeks of what has been the most bitter and divisive campaign in the country’s 30-year-democratic history, and which has left millions of Brazilians not only fearful of his Bolsonaro’s policies but for the very survival of Brazil’s democracy.
In Brazil, far-right authoritarian populist Bolsonaro won the first round. Some of his recent quotes: “I’m pro-torture”; “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly” (to a female representative in Congress); or “I’d rather have my son die…than show up dating some guy.”
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) October 8, 2018
Bolsonaro has praised the military dictatorship which led the country up until 1985, called a congresswoman too ugly to rape, described refugees the “scum of the world,” said that “a gay son is the result of a lack of beatings,” and promised to give Brazil’s already notoriously-deadly security forces an even freer reign to gun down criminals. Bolsonaro has also promised to open up the entirety of the Amazon for mining and logging.
“I don’t even want to imagine what that is going to be like [if he wins],” James N Green, the director of Brown University’s Brazil Initiative told the Guardian on Friday. “It would be the beginning of the end of democracy.”
"Dictatorship Never Again!" Here's a quick English translation of the goosebump-inducing speech @GuilhermeBoulos has just given in Brazil's final presidential debate. Super powerful stuff. #DebatenaGlobo pic.twitter.com/sSLBdIiJCa
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) October 5, 2018
The conditions in Brazil, however, are perfect for an authoritarian candidate like Bolsonaro to take center stage. From 2014 to 2017, the country entered into a grueling recession, leaving 13 million unemployed while the government spent billions on lavish projects like the World Cup and the Olympics. In 2016, a massive corruption scandal involving the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobas engulfed the nation, leading to the impeachment of then-president Dilma Rouseff and the imprisonment of former president Lula da Silva (who then tried to run as Bolsonaro’s opponent).
Meanwhile, crime in Brazil has surged. A record 62,000 Brazilians died from homicides in the last year, making it even more violent than Mexico in terms of homicide rate. The effects of the recession have meant that police budgets have been slashed, and now the military has stepped in to take over the security of the favelas around Rio de Janeiro, despite the consensus of experts who agree this move will only result in more deaths of the poor and vulnerable — who already make up the majority of Brazil’s murder victims.
However, Bolsonaro’s hardline rhetoric against crime and corruption, coupled with his business-friendly policies which have attracted the country’s financial elite to him, means that he’s still in a favorable position to seize power in the world’s fourth largest democracy. The tensions were only exacerbated in September when Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally, forcing him to spend time campaigning from a hospital bed.
It is still an open question whether Bolsonaro can take the final step and win the Brazilian presidency — he suffers from lack of support from the major political parties and is campaigning on an extremely tight budget. However, his sudden surge into prominence is part of the worrying global upswing in support for far-right and authoritarian leaders.
“It’s very hard to understand his movement, the why, the how. It doesn’t have any precedent in Brazil,” Lucas de Aragao, director of Arko Advice, a consultancy company in Brasilia, told the Washington Post. “Even some Lula voters are turning to him. It’s happened because Brazil loves this idea of a savior, of a hero. And Bolsonaro now represents this image of a savior as much as Lula does.”