The Election of Far Right Bolsonaro: Ominous Times in Brazil

R Arun Kumar

JAIR Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate, has won the Brazilian presidential elections with over 55 per cent of the vote defeating the candidate of the Left, Fernando Haddad who secured 44.3 per cent in the country's most polarised elections in decades. Though Haddad won an additional 13 million since the first-round elections earlier this month, they ultimately proved insufficient to defeat Bolsonaro. Nearly 21.17 per cent of Brazilians abstained from the elections, while another 7.43 per cent left their ballots unstamped. This is a reflection of the political lethargy that has crept among the Brazilians.

The elections to the Congress that were held simultaneously with the first round of presidential elections ensured the entry of a record thirty political parties into the Congress. Among these parties, the Worker’s Party (PT) remains the largest party with 56 seats, while the party of Bolsonaro increased its strength considerably winning 52 seats.

Brazilian commentators wrote on the elections, thus: “Brazil now has a more extremist president than any democratic country in the world….we don’t know what is going to happen”. Clóvis Saint-Clair, a journalist who has written an unauthorised Bolsonaro biography, expressed his great fears about the future of ‘Brazil’s young democracy’. “This is a moment of great doubt and apprehension”. Following in the footsteps of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro announced that henceforth, he will not be speaking to the press, but will be making all his public statements via social media.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, was first elected to Congress in 1991. He is the leader of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which calls itself an anti-establishment group. Its political philosophy espouses a combination of social conservatism and pro-market policies. Bolsonaro had pitched himself to voters as an anti-establishment maverick who will fight graft. His campaign was endorsed by the evangelicals and the powerful agribusiness industry. He was advised by Donald Trump’s former senior counselor Steve Bannon. Bolsonaro is a well-known supporter of a liberal arms policy. In order to establish this point, his supporters attended to the polls with guns in the first round of presidential elections. Contrasting his poll campaign with that of Bolsonaro, Fernando Haddad, a university professor, has constantly repeated the phrase “More books, fewer weapons” as part of his campaign to show how divergent both candidates’ policies are.

Bolsonaro during his campaign stated that if elected he would pull out Brazil from the United Nations because it’s full of communists. “If I am president, I will leave the UN. That institution is of no use as it's a meeting place for communists and people who have no commitment to South America”. This shows his ‘respect’ to international institutions, treaties and conventions.

During most of his legislative career, Bolsonaro was a marginal figure known for speaking nostalgically about military dictatorship and for making incendiary comments about women, Afro-Americans and homosexuals.

His disgust against the Afro-Americans is well-known. Visiting a traditional community of black Brazilians, a year ago, he called them fat and so lazy, and that “Afro-descendants do nothing. I do not think they even serve as reproducers”. His reactionary ideas were further exposed when he told a female lawmaker that she was ‘too ugly to rape’ and questioned why women should earn the same salary as men. Further, “I’ve got five kids. Four of them are men, but on the fifth I had a moment of weakness and it came out a woman.” In an interview given to a magazine in 2016, he voiced his opinion about the reasons for the increase in homosexuality as, “liberal habits, drugs and because women began to work”. He openly stated his disgust by saying that he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son”.

Bolsonaro is unabashedly nostalgic for Brazil's brutal military dictatorship (1964-1985). He has hailed dictators like Peru’s Alberto Fujimori and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. “Yes, I’m in favour of a dictatorship”. He once said the dictatorship's ‘mistake’ was that it tortured, instead of killing, leftist dissidents and suspected sympathisers. He vowed to ease gun restrictions and make it easier for the police to kill suspects.

Bolsonaro could get away with all his pro-dictatorship comments because unlike some other South American dictatorships, Brazil never put its military officials responsible for atrocities committed during dictatorship period on trial. As a result, majority of the young people were completely unaware of this period of history and even if they were aware it was all through half-truths and misinformation. So Brazil's problem, as a member of the commission digging into the history of the dictatorship stated, is that “there’s no memory”. Even some of the prisoners who had suffered tortures during this period, now on seeing the election of Bolsonaro, are lamenting over the fact that they have never even told their own children about the hardships they had gone through. Some of the torture methods included, forcing them to stand on cut-open tin cans of condensed milk for hours and applying electric shocks to the genitals and repeated near-drownings in kerosene-filled baths. Bolsonaro openly stated that he is in favour of torture.

Lilia M Schwarcz, a professor of anthropology at the University of São Paulo, commenting after the first round of elections stated: “People are very mad at politicians and Bolsonaro presented himself not as a politician, even if he is, (but as) a kind of Messiah. People like these kinds of promises”.

One of the reasons for Bolsonaro’s election is because he capitalised on the “social frustrations that have….permeated society in Brazil, and in Latin America in general”. His electoral victory cannot be viewed in isolation. It is a continuation of a chain of events that had started with the institutional coup d’etat which deposed the legitimate President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the arbitrary arrest of former president Lula da Silva who was banned from contesting elections. Also they are a reflection of the widespread anger prevalent among the people against the social problems affecting the Brazilian working class and other toiling sections and the deep rooted corruption prevalent among various State institutions, including the judiciary.

Moreover, the economy of Brazil was greatly affected by the global economic crisis. It shrank nearly seven per cent during its worst-ever recession, from 2015 to 2016. And there is widespread outrage over violent crime, with last year alone registering a record 63,880 murders. Popular disgruntlement was conveniently utilised by the right-wing forces in the country, ably assisted by the prejudiced media corporates. Their biased reporting of events and demonisation of the Left had an influence on the people’s psyche. All these factors together led to the electoral debacle of the PT and the Left.

Bolsonaro is expected to fill his cabinet with military men and treat political opponents despotically and undermine democratic institutions. Just a week before the runoff vote, he told a rally in São Paulo that his Workers’ Party rivals would have to leave the country or go to jail. “Those red good-for-nothings will be banished from the homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history”.

Haddad, immediately reacting after the election results, urged the 45 million voters who had backed him not to lose hope. “We will continue with our heads held high, with determination and with courage,” he said. “We have a lifelong commitment to this country and we will not allow this country to go backwards”.

The Communist Party of Brazil, PCdoB, whose member, Manuela d'Avila, ran as the vice presidential candidate along with Haddad, immediately called upon its rank and file and also the people of the country to brace up for the fight on their hands. In a statement they had issued on the night election results were declared, they stated that starting from ‘now’: “Resistance, vigorous opposition, must be organised within the whole political and social life of the country, beginning with the National Congress and other legislative houses, extending to social movements, working class organisations, segments of the business community, the academia, intellectuals, artists, the judiciary, religious sectors, and even members of institutions of the Republic”. It promised the people to stay with them in the ‘trenches’ and called upon them to erect “barriers against the return of a regime of State of exception and in defense of democracy, Brazil and the rights of the people”.

As the PCdoB rightly recognises and called, the future of Brazil is clearly at stake and it can only be saved by mobilising people in large numbers in defence of the gains that were made in the thirty odd years, since the end of dictatorship. The PCdoB has a rich history of waging a consistent struggle against dictatorship, not cowed down by all the repression and torture inflicted upon it. Only such struggles can make the people identify and rally behind the real anti-establishment forces that can lead the country on the path for social transformation and a better future.

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