Jair Bolsonaro Is Brazil’s New President, Is He a Threat To Democracy?
What does a win for the highly-controversial Jair Bolsonaro mean for Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest democracy?
On Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro, often dubbed as Donald Trump of Brazil, won the runoff election by winning 55.1 percent of the 99 percent of counted votes. His rival from the Labour Party Fernando Haddad earned 44.8 percent of the votes. Bolsonaro is a member of the Social Liberal Party and has stirred up fears that his win will move Brazil towards militarization and away from democracy.
This year’s election was preceded by one of the most divisive election lead-ups in the country’s history. Each group argued that a victory for the opposite side would destroy Brazil.
The 63-year-old former military captain won the first round of the ballot three weeks ago by winning 48 percent of the vote, but that amount fell short of the amount needed to skip a runoff. A candidate must win 50 percent of the vote in the first round of an election to take office and avoid a run-off.
In his victory speech, Bolsonaro dubbed himself a “defender of freedom”. He also promised to uphold and protect Brazilians’ rights as well as respect the law.
“The laws are for everyone, this is how it will be during our constitutional and democratic government,” the newly-elected president said.
Jair Bolsonaro, A Polarizing Figure in Brazil
Leading up to the election, many Brazilians were disenchanted with the Labour Party after recent corruption cases tarnished its image. Most notably, a corruption scandal implicated the country’s former iconic president Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, affectionately known as Lula, who was barred from running for office by the federal court. Lula denies all charges and says the investigation and charges against him are politically motivated.
Despite being jailed, the 72-year-old politician is still popular and he likely would have won if he had been allowed to participate in the election.
Bolsonaro’s supporters see him as a brand new figure who will create a better future and lead Brazil away from corruption. Brazilians want a leader who can solve two main problems: the economy and crime. Bolsonaro came across extremely tough on crime with his professed support for the increased militarization of police and promise to fill his cabinet with former military officers.
While Bolsonaro has been accused of making racist and homophobic remarks, he was stabbed shortly before the vote which may have increased sympathy and support for him.
“We have to have support to work. People want a change, an alternative in power,” said Anderson Valentim, a police sergeant last September.
But, many feared that the victory of Bolsonaro means the death of democracy as he promises to stack his new cabinet with military officials.
“There will be resistance, there will be opposition, there will be street mobilizations. Our voices will not be silenced,” a 36-year-old activist named Guillherme Boulos said to The Guardian.
Thousands of women took to streets protesting Bolsonaro’s victory, chanting ‘Ele nao’, which in Portuguese means ‘not him’.
Bolsonaro’s behavior compelled Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fisherman, two prominent journalists at the Intercept, to call him the world’s most misogynist and hateful leader in the Democratic world. According to the Intercept’s report, he once told a fellow female Congressmen that he would not rape her because she didn’t “merit that.”
Bolsonaro was also slammed for saying that female employees should not be paid equally to men as female workers can become pregnant and take maternity leave. He also added that paid maternity leave can affect productivity.
What’s Next for Bolsonaro?
Bolsonaro will be faced with the daunting tasks such of combating corruption and restoring the economy – stock markets responded positively to his winning in the first round of the election.
One of Bolsonaro’s proposed landmark policies is his intent to relax gun ownership regulations in the hopes of combatting crime.
Despite the fact that Bolsonaro’s PSL party won significantly in the recent election, the Labour Party is still dominant with 56 seats, meaning the new president will find it hard to gain support for new regulations or sweeping policy changes.
Will Bolsonaro Militarize Brazil?
Opponents of Bolsonaro argue a win by him will lead to a return to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Bolsonaro himself is a former Army officer and for some, his victory sparks fear of an increasingly authoritarian rule, but analysts debate how likely that is to happen.
“This is a guy who said the Brazilian dictatorship didn’t kill enough people, that they need to kill another 30,000 people, that the police should be able to kill suspects, that the left will have a choice of going to jail or leaving the country.
“Will he do these things? I think he will implement as many of these threats as he can get away with,” said Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington to SBS News.
However, “the shift towards authoritarian rule may not be as extreme as many fear,” according to Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Shifter told SBS News Brazil’s Congress may be able to reign in Bolsonaro.
Despite often being labeled as the Trump of Brazil, Ivan Briscoe, Latin America director of the International Crisis Group, said that Bolsonaro’s style is actually similar to that of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“It’s the appeal of the strong leader, it’s the slightly vague political program, it’s the promise of ‘trust me, I will do the job’ – it’s the style. So we might see similar campaigning in Latin America,” Briscoe explained to SBS news.
Bolsonaro will be sworn in on January 1, 2019, replacing the current leader Michel Temer.