Brazil’s discordant presidential election will go to a second round run-off after far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won an emphatic victory in the first round of voting, falling just short of the 50% required to be declared Brazil’s next president.
Bolsanaro received 46% of the vote and will face Fernando Haddad from the Workers Party, who won 29%, in the second round runoff on Sunday, October 28th.
Bolsonaro, who is commonly referred to as the “Brazilian Trump” by international media, is currently being advised by Steve Bannon (former adviser to US President Donald Trump). As a contentious figure in Brazilian politics, Bolsonaro is known for his far-right populist political views, including having made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964–1985 military dictatorship.
In his campaign, Bolsonaro promised to combat corruption and crackdown on crime, both key challenges for Brazilians . However, he is also known for a number of controversial comments which has lost him favour with several key constituencies. Analysts have described his campaign as a mix of racism, misogyny, and extreme views on combating crime.
This does not seem to have deterred support for Bolsanaro. In fact, he appears to be benefiting from the late entrance of Workers Party Candidate, Fernando Haddad, who entered the race last month after former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was barred by Brazil’s top electoral court from running because of a corruption conviction.
The Fall of the Workers Party and the rise of the Far-Right
In 2015, thousands of predominantly white upper middle-class protesters took to the streets, in what has been termed “ a well coordinated campaign” against President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party. These demonstrations were organized through, and supported by, an aggressive campaign against her administration in both the mainstream media and social media.
Their demands were unambiguously aligned with the far-right.. This coordinated campaign represented the beginning of the end of the hegemony of the Workers Party, and saw the emergence of a more dominant and articulate far-right.
Workers Party : Early years in Government
The Founder and President of the Workers Party, former State President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who came to power in 2003, was credited with accelerating economic growth, diluting the neo-liberal policy framework in the country, creating millions of jobs and building a neo-developmentalist alliance. The country was a founding member of BRICS, and Lula became a global statesman. By the end of his second term, his approval ratings neared 90%.
However, his successor President Dilma Rousseff never had the same level of support. Partly because she had no personal base, as she had never been elected to public office before, and because she was been handpicked by Lula. Despite this, she inherited his voters and, unsurprisingly, the voting pattern in 2010 closely mirrored that of the 2006 elections.
Under Rousseff’s first administration, the government expanded its social programmes and tilted economic policy further towards neo-developmentalism. The government sought to attract private investment into infrastructure and transport through concessions and public-private partnerships.
This strategy failed.
Its failure, however, was not due solely to the aggressive developmentalism undertaken by President Rousseff. But rather the governments failure to take into account the continuation of the global economic crisis and its impact on emerging economies such as Brazil.
Rousseff and the strengthening of the far-right
The far-right used these economic difficulties to justify an attack against President Rousseff’s administration, demanding the restoration of the neo-liberal policies implemented in the 1990s.
The developmentalist dream of Lula, became a “dream deferred”, as Rousseff’s administration had no choice but to edge back towards neo-liberal policies, as the Workers Party had to confront not only a worsening economy but also mounting political pressure.
As the economic crisis worsened, Rousseff’s administration reverted back to neo-liberal policies to satisfy domestic and international capital. Despite, attempts to appease “Capital”, the Workers Party never solidly had their support, and the decision to adopt neo-liberal policies, further alienated their traditional base, who benefited from earlier neo-developmentalist policies.
Despite this, President Rousseff was reelected in 2014, partly as a result of fear that the opposition candidate, Aécio Neves, would impose harsh neo-liberal economic policies and reverse the social and economic achievements of the Workers Party.
Subsequent revelations of an alleged corruption network centred on Petrobras was the beginning of the end for President Rousseff and her administration. The scandal catalyzed a far right mass opposition movement who demanded the ‘end of corruption’ and ‘Dilma’s impeachment’.
Beyond the calls for ‘the end of corruption’, which implicitly meant the end of the Workers Party, the central objective was the elimination of the neo-developmentalist policies.
While the wave of demonstrations in 2015, seemed to be coordinated through social media, and backed by mainstream media, the far-right as a collective ingeniously blended into the background, so as to give the appearance that the protests were grassroots driven and spontaneous.
Therefore, the revelation that President Rousseff had allegedly been moving funds between government budgets (which is illegal under Brazilian law), was the proverbial stick which broke the camels back, and provided sufficient ammunition and justification for her removal.
The Far Right and 2018
Analysts believe that Bolsanaro’s recent popularity is a result of perceived scandals by the Workers Party . The public, as expressed in mainstream media, has blamed them for the devastating recession which crippled the Brazillian economy. Haddad has not helped his numbers by insisting during the campaign, that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a political prisoner, and that Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment was a “coup”.
In addition, Economists have pointed out that the country’s financial markets have rallied in recent days at the prospect of an Bolsonaro presidency implementing a liberal reform agenda.
Gabriel Arruda of the Monte Castelo Institute, a center-right think tank in Brasilia, notes that Brazilian voters say they are fed up with crime and corruption. However, there remains widespread fear Bolsanaro might return Brazil to the statist, populist, government-centric economic policies of the dictatorship years.
Speaking on Facebook Live after the announcement of the first round of election results, Bolsonaro said in true “Trump Fashion” that, “We will unite our people. United we will be a great nation. Nobody has the potential we have.”
He further added that the second round of voting won’t be easy, because “they (Workers Party) have billions to spend,”, and that Brazilians had to choose between “prosperity, freedom, family, and God” or “the path of Venezuela”.
The lead up to the second round of voting is expected to be an intense ideological battle as both candidates, seek to convince voters that they represent the best plans for Brazil’s future.
Fazlin Fransman is a Senior Researcher at Moja Research Institute