By Prarthana Mitra
More than 55% of Brazilian voters elected far-right populist leader Jair Bolsonaro as its new president, affirming their faith in his promises of free-market conversion and hard-line agenda for crime. Here’s why his presidency spells fear and hope, tears and celebration for Brazil, a long-standing left bastion which begins its journey towards the far-right with an authoritarian ideologue from January 2019.
Why Bolsonaro won and how it’s problematic
Promising relief from crime and corruption, and an end to the ongoing political and economic crises, Social Liberal Party’s Bolsonaro won big against left-wing Worker’s Party’s Fernando Haddad on Monday, despite a history of scandals, racist comments and offensive remarks about women and the LGBT community. In 2015, Bolsonaro memorably told a fellow lawmaker that she was too ugly to rape. During his campaign, he even endorsed the relaxation of gun laws, claiming that every honest Brazilian citizen should be able to own and use a gun. He has the love and support of evangelicals and gun-rights advocates, and he has denounced the media as “fake news” on multiple occasions.
His victory, therefore, has naturally sparked global and national outrage, inviting easy comparison with US president Donald Trump‘s victory in 2016. In fact, Bolsonaro recently made international headlines when he followed Trump, in threatening to pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accord if he won. His other economic policies include reducing state intervention in the economy. He has also been likened to disgraced Phillippine president Rodrigo Duterte by some.
What the shift to the right means
The newly elected president has threatened to destroy, imprison and exile most of his political opponents, besides advocating torture as an instrument of justice and security, thus tapping into the deep resentment with the rising crime rate and inept government reforms.
A former military officer, Bolsonaro has exalted the country’s history with military dictatorship throughout his campaign and his victory marks the first radical political change since democracy was restored three decades ago.
Having won the last four elections, this is the first setback to the left; it can be attributed to Operation Car Wash which uncovered deep-seeded corruption in highest ranks of the administration last year, forcing the country’s President to abdicate and face a long term in jail. After the deeply divisive election this year, the world’s fourth-largest democracy is now on course for a messy fascist future which could reset all the progress achieved so far.
However, Haddad’s party remains the largest party, with 56 seats, which suggests the president-elect will face a hard time finding backing for his legislation in the parliament. In the rest of Latin America, most heads of state welcomed the news and conveyed their heartiest congratulations to the new leader.
Amnesty International reflected on Bolsonaro’s win, saying that if the new president follows through with his campaign pledges, Brazil could pose a huge risk to its indigenous peoples, LGBT communities, black youth, women, activists and civil society organisations.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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