Jair Bolsonaro was declared the winner of the Brazilian presidential election on 28th October, and his win signifies a massive political shift, placing hope and fear across the country.
Jair Bolsonaro is described as a far-right conservative who recently joined the Social Liberal Party (PSL) where he defeated Workers’ Party (PT) leftist candidate Fernando Haddad with 55% of valid votes in Brazilian general election. A 63-year-old former army captain who started his career in the armed forces, and finally entering politics in 1988 running for council in Rio de Janeiro for the Christian Democratic Party, where he was elected for a consecutive seven years as the federal deputy. Throughout his time in politics, he has become known for statements which people have described as racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-democratic.
These statements include a 2011 interview stating he wouldn’t be capable of loving a homosexual son, and that he would prefer that son to die in an accident. In 2017, when talking about black settlements in the country by descendants of past slaves, he stated these descendants “do nothing and they are not good for procreation” going on to refer black activists as “animals” who should “go back to the zoo.” His past statements have led him to be charged by Brazil’s attorney general in April for inciting discrimination against blacks, women and gays.
Criticism has been placed on him for delivering speeches expressing his favour of a dictatorship and his disappointment that past dictatorships didn’t kill enough:
“I am in favour of a dictatorship… We will never resolve serious national problems with this irresponsible democracy…Things will only change, unfortunately, when we have a civil war, and do what the military regime failed to do: killing 30,000 or so.”
During his candidacy for president, Bolsonaro described himself as an anti-establishment political outsider, relying heavily on social media to promote his policies, taking a page out of President Trump’s book, where he criticised his opponent’s party and stated he will “rescue Brazil” if elected.
He’s in favour of a small government, lowering taxes and for the country to have strict immigration policies. Many have questioned the future of the Amazon rainforest due to Bolsonaro wanting to increase agricultural activity in the Amazon, while also increasing mining and oil collecting, placing fears on environmental issues.
His promises have hit on citizens’ concerns the most – one being the high crime rate in Brazil. Bosonaro has proposed a policy allowing the police to have the ability of ‘force to kill’, lowering the age of minors that need to be held accountable for their crimes from 18 to 16, and to loosen gun restrictions amongst citizens for self-defence stating in August:
“We have to guarantee self-defence for the good citizens. If one of us, civilian or solider is assaulted, if he shoots the attacker twenty times, it serves them right. He must be decorated – not judged.”
Opposition from Bolsonaro came largely from women, with the slogan of “#Ele Não, or “Not Him.” During a campaign rally on 6th September, Bolsonaro was stabbed while on supporters shoulders, resulting in a three week stay in the hospital where he still was able to campaign via social media, addressing his supports via videos and recorded messages. Many believe this helped raise his profile, giving him “martyr” status and helped him miss TV debates before the vote.
So, why is Jair Bolsonaro popular?
Brazilians confidence on the current government is at an all-time low, and since the workers’ party won the four last consecutive elections, many citizens have blamed the party for the economic struggles the country is facing.
Current scandals involving the Workers’ Party have created a major setback to the reputation of the party and its leaders. Operation “Carwash”, Brazilian biggest corruption scandal in its history, which uncovered a money laundering scheme in the Brazilian oil and gas extractor company, Petrobras, which funnelled money into the pockets of politicians. The investigation is still ongoing with currently 179 indictments that include politicians and businesses leaders.
Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), and member of the Workers’ Party was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his involvement in the scandal of money laundering, which he has denied. The former President registered for the presidential bid while serving his sentence but was eventually banned to run.
The reputation of the workers’ party got worse after Former President Lula successor, President Dilma Rousseff (2011 – 2016) was impeached when it was alleged she moved funds between government budgets, which is illegal under Brazilian law. Bolsanaro was a vocal supporter for the impeachment, leading a protest against her and voting in favour of her removal from office.
This presidential election saw many voters wanting the drastic change. The troublesome rhetoric that may be coming from Bolsanaro was less of a focus compared to the dislike and issues Brazilians face with the current government, and so for many, there is hope that Bolsonaro can bring the major change they think the country needs. But while there is hope, they is also fear, with some Brazilians fearing Bolsanaro will create new problems relating to freedom of the press, environmental progress, minorities rights and democracy.