In 2018, Brazil elected a far-right president named Jair Bolsonaro, a former soldier under the Brazilian military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985, and later on promoted in 1988 as captain in reserve units of the army after being arrested in 1986 during 15 days for writing an article criticizing low wages for military officers. Bolsonaro raised early in the 90s as a fringe candidate for the Social Liberal Party, that combines social conservatism with a pro-market program for the economy, and became known for his racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fascist and theocratic remarks.
Among the most controversial are:
"I would perform a coup d'état if I could, Congress does not work, and I think 90% of the population would celebrate it".
"The dictatorship's mistake was to torture but not kill".
"Elections won’t change anything in this country. It will only change on the day that we break out in civil war here and do the job that the military regime didn’t do: killing 30,000. If some innocent people die, that’s fine. In every war, innocent people die".
"She doesn't deserve to be raped because she's very ugly. She's not my type, I'd never rape her. I'm not a rapist, but if I was, I wouldn't rape her because she doesn't deserve it", explaining why he previously told a leftist deputy, Maria do Rosario: "I wouldn't rape you, you don't deserve it".
"I never beat my ex-wife, but thought of shooting her various times".
"I defend torture, it must be used against criminals, there would be no human rights in this case".
"I went to a quilombola (a settlement of African slave descendants). The lightest Afro-descent weighed seven arrobas (around 80 kilograms). They don't do anything. They're no use even to procreate".
"I am not going to combat or discriminate, but if I see two men kissing on the street, I am going to hit them".
"I have five children. Four were boys, on the fifth I got weak and had a daughter".
"God above all. This history of a secular state doesn't exist. The state is Christian and those who are against it can leave. The minority must bow to the majority".
"I wouldn't be able to love a gay son. I wouldn't be a hypocrite, I'd prefer a son to die in an accident than appear with a moustacho".
"We're going to shoot the PT (Workers Party) supporters here in Acre".
Despite being widely known by those statements, his victory in the 2018 elections was possible due to several factors. The first one was that socialist presidents Lula Da Silva (2003-2011) and ex guerrilla fighter Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), from the Workers Party, were found guilty of corruption; Lula was convicted in 2017 of receiving a renovated beachfront apartment worth 1 million dollars as a bribe by engineering firm OAS, while Dilma was impeached in 2016 for covering up corruption scandals around contracts given to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and in state-owned oil company Petrobras.
Both left-wing figures were banned from participating in the 2018 elections, so the PT could not present a strong candidate.
Moreover, the fact that socialist and neighbor Venezuela, an ally of both Lula and Dilma, was becoming a failed-state, pushing hundreds of thousands of its residents to flee into Brazil among other destinations, hurt the credibility of the Brazilian socialist program.
Indeed, Bolsonaro's campaign in 2018 stressed that Brazil was very close to becoming socialist in the Venezuelan kind-of-way, citing poor economic development in the last years, widespread criminality, huge corruption, a bureaucracy that was growing too much, and "ceaseless attacks against family values". His victory ended 21 years of left-wing elected presidents and followed the right-wing populism surge experienced in the western world with Brexit, Trump and anti-immigration forces in Europe.
However, after one year in office, his government lost the support of the majority of the population when the pandemic became serious because of the unprofessional and chaotic way it was managed, neglecting the use of vaccines and instead insisting in the use of early treatment drugs like hydroxychloroquine. Later on, Bolsonaro was almost impeached also for covering up corruption when his government was buying health equipment, and showed poor leadership during the extensive destruction of rainforest by wildfires and private companies, provoking that the deforestation rate of the Amazonas increased by two during his rule.
On foreign policy, Bolsonaro praised both Trump and Putin for ideological and commercial reasons, saying always that he "knows how the war in Ukraine could have been avoided", whereas with Biden relations have been just cordial.
Among his positive actions were the decision to give the Central Bank full autonomy and to make the pension system more sustainable, but this was nothing in order to compensate for the bad things that hurt his image as a capable statesman.
Additionally, Lula Da Silva was finally acquitted in 2021 by the Supreme Court from his criminal charges and left prison, so he could compete again as a candidate in 2022.
Lula's record as a politician has been mainly positive:
As a trade union leader, he lost first the race for the presidency in 1989, 1994 and 1998 but finally won with perseverance in 2002 showing a charismatic personality. During his presidency until 2011, he made more efficient the social benefit program Bolsa Familia or Family Grant, by which the poorest families get 100 dollars per month on cash transfers as long as the children are being kept studying at school. Because of this, Brazilians living below the poverty line went down from more than 34% in 2002 to 20% in 2010.
GDP growth averaged 3.5%, which is a solid number for the region and taking into account the global recession of 2007-2009, and public finances were under control. Finally, he left his tenure with 90% of approval ratings, one the highest ever in the world during peacetimes.
Taking this into consideration, and because the polls were giving Lula at least 15% advantage in support over Bolsonaro, the results of the first round of the presidential election last Sunday were very surprising and a deception for the left:
Lula got 48%, Bolsonaro 43% and two other parties the rest of the votes, and Bolsonaro's allies won more deputies in Congress and governors race in many important states, like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Because none of the presidencial candidates reached more than 50%, the election will be decided with a final second round on 30 October.
Lula started the campaign building alliances across a broad front; his vice president is a former right-wing candidate, and he has the support of former center-right presidents, such as the influential Henrique Cardoso.
Lula has promised to continue the social reform work from his time as president. The rich will be taxed more and the "Bolsa Familia" expanded. The program lifted 36 million people out of poverty and has been copied by twenty countries. Lula will also increase the state participation in agriculture, electricity, postal service and oil company Petrobras, which Bolsonaro has begun to privatize. On foreign policy, Lula has said that Russia should not have invaded Ukraine, but that Zelensky is as responsible as Putin for this war. About Venezuela, he said: "we need to treat it with respect, always wanting to be as democratic as possible".
The stakes at the election have been high but without political armed violence so far, and it is unlikely that Bolsonaro could perform a coup d'état with the help of the army. Instead, it is expected that he will claim some kind of fraud and follow Trump's path in order to try to make a come-back for the presidency in the next four years.