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Far-right Populist, Jair Bolsonaro, Wins Brazil Presidential Election

On Oct. 29, Rede Globo reports that Jair Bolsonaro won the contentious Brazilian presidential election with about 56% of the vote, ushering in a rightward shift in Brazilian politics.

Bolsonaro, a member of the PSL (Social Liberal Party), beat Fernando Haddad of the PT (Workers Party) on a platform of what the Harvard Gazette characterizes as law and order, economic liberalization, and social conservatism. Now slated to assume office on Jan. 1, some still question the legitimacy of the election. According Folha de S.Paulo, the PT has called for a formal inquiry into the dissemination of false information during the election.

The Bolsonaro campaign was allegedly involved in spreading disinformation over Whatsapp, a popular messaging app in Brazil; Folha reports that several corporations spent millions of dollars on unauthorized ads. In response to these allegations Gustavo Bebianno, president of the PSL, stated that the allegations made by the PT undermined democracy and said Bolsonaro won the election legitimately.

In an interview with The Point News, St. Mary’s political science professor, Antonio Ugues stated that a “highly contested election is usually a good thing” but went on to say that the ferocity of the rhetoric and the physical attacks, most notably the stabbing of Bolsonaro, showed the polarized state of Brazilian politics.

Professor Ugues also stated that despite Bolsonaro’s offensive rhetoric he won by an impressive margin and this victory signals the public repudiation of the PT after nearly two decades of rule due to frustration over corruption, a poor economy, and a push from the religious right.

Despite Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, Ugues is unsure how Bolsonaro’s presidency will unfold and stated that “[Bolsonaro’s] approach to governance during his first year will show us a lot,” because, on the one hand, Bolsonaro promises to liberalize the economy; yet on the other, he has shown signs that he doesn’t respect democratic norms.

Folha reports that Bolsonaro, a politician since 1991, has a long career of making controversial remarks. In 1999 Bolsonaro stated that “I am in favor of dictatorship… provided Congress takes another step toward the abyss” and said in 2008 that the former president of Brazil should be placed in front of a firing squad. In 2003, Bolsonaro stated that a fellow congresswoman was too ugly to rape, and in 2016, he claimed that if he were a businessman, he would pay women less than men. In response to criticism over these statements, Bolsonaro claims that they are hyperbole to get across his points.

In one instance, when asked how he would respond to his son falling in love with a black woman, Bolsonaro stated that his son was too well educated for that. After public denunciations, Bolsonaro claimed that the interview was misleadingly edited and claimed that his answer was in response to his son falling in love with a man.

Criticism over past rhetoric, however, is now the least of Bolsonaro’s worries. The Washington Post reports that Bolsonaro is inheriting a government that is unprecedentedly fractured. There are currently 30 parties seated in Congress, and Bolsonaro’s PSL is only the second largest, holding 10% of the seats; to govern effectively, Bolsonaro will have to create a broad coalition with other parties. In addition to building a governing coalition, Bolsonaro will also have to address Brazil’s fragile economy which still hasn’t fully recovered from the 2008 economic crisis.

It is unclear if Bolsonaro will be able to manage this volatile situation without resorting to undemocratic measures. Some experts have expressed concern that Bolsonaro, himself a former Captain in the army, intends to fill his government with members of the military. Correio Braziliense reports that Bolsonaro will appoint five generals to positions in his government and is likely to have many lower-ranking members of the military also present in his administration.

According to Correio Braziliense, Bolsonaro’s supporters defend the heavy military presence in his government by stating that there is no room for dictatorship with the divided government and claim that, as a respected institution, the military will bring people together.

At this point Brazil’s future is uncertain and as professor Ugues pointed out, what happens in the next year will show us a lot.

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