BY SAMAN BHAT ’22
The world has been left in suspense since the Brazilian general election on Oct. 7, when Brazil’s front-runner, Jair Bolsonaro, obtained 46 percent of the popular vote, a mere four percent away from the 50 percent he needed to win. His closest contender, Fernando Haddad, landed far behind him, coming in second with 29 percent of the popular vote. Brazil will decide the fate of the country on Oct. 28 in the runoff election between the two candidates.
Bolsonaro has a record of isolating minorities in Brazil with his far-right views. Once, in 2003, he told a female congresswoman, “I would never rape you, because you don’t deserve it,” and said he “would be incapable of loving a gay son” during a Playboy magazine interview in 2011.
Meanwhile, Fernando Haddad’s current campaigning tactics have not been successful in gaining votes for the Worker’s Party; focusing on Bolsonaro’s bigoted statements have not done Haddad much good, as Bolsonaro received a wide margin of the votes on Oct. 7. Though it is technically possible for Haddad to receive the 25 percent of votes that neither won on Oct. 7, the next election will still be close. Part of Haddad’s issue is public distrust of his party, as many in Brazil blame them for the country’s current economic decline.
No matter the outcome of the Oct. 28 election, it is clear Brazilian politics are changing. Some citizens fear a return to a military dictatorship with the popularity of Bolsonaro, a man who looks back at Brazil’s former military regime with admiration.
To many people outside of Brazil, it is a marvel how such a man could be so close to winning the election; however, the level of distrust the Brazilian people have for the current government, plus the country’s increasing crime and decreasing employment rates, have given Bolsonaro a platform to rise. Polls have shown that around 60 percent of Bolsonaro’s supporters are under 34 years old — a demographic that is not old enough to remember what the previous regime was like. From 1964 to 1985, military generals ruled Brazil with systematic arrests and torture of dissidents. According to the New York Times, nearly 500 people were killed or disappeared.
On May 23, 1999, Bolsonaro was asked what he would do on his first day as president. “There is no doubt. I would launch a coup on the same day […] let it be a dictatorship,” he said.
Bolsonaro continues to run on a platform dedicated to decreasing crime with more military presence. Andrew Reiter, a professor of International Relations and Politics at Mount Holyoke College, claims that if Bolsonaro were to win the election, “[Brazil] can expect to see the military and police enlarged and provided with more funding. The military will be deployed domestically to fight crime and the government will issue decrees restricting some civil liberties in the name of public security,” he said. Bolsonaro plans on giving more leadership roles in the government to prominent military officials, an idea shunned for many years since Brazil’s former regime.
Assistant Professor of International Relations and Politics at Mount Holyoke College Christopher Mitchell said that even if Bolsonaro were to win, people should not worry. He said, “It’s important to remember that Lula — Brazil’s former and most beloved president — would almost certainly have been the heavy favor to win had the courts allowed him to run, so the left in Brazil remains potent and committed to democracy.”
According to an Oct. 15 poll, there is even stronger rejection on Haddad — 47 percent of Brazilians said they would never vote for him, compared to 35 percent who said they would never vote for Bolsonaro. The Washington Post points to Bolsonaro’s popularity as a result of vicious political polarization; a phenomenon affecting many of the world’s democratic countries.