Brazilian Elections 2018: A Shift Towards Dictatorship

Jair Bolsonaro Fernando Haddad -->

Millions of Brazilians went to vote today choosing between two very different candidates to be their next president. For a democracy with over 200 million people and a history of troubled politics and dictatorship, this election was integral for both military and economy reasons. And the Bolsonaro vs Haddad battle carved an important turn in Brazil’s future. 

The far-right – Jair Bolsonaro

A 63-year-old former army captain, he is from the small, conservative Social Liberal Party. His provocative statements on abortion, race, migration, homosexuality have earned him the nickname “Trump of the Tropics”. 

In the days leading up to the elections, he had been attacked by knife in which he lost 40% of his blood and needed emergency surgery.

One of Mr Bolsonaro’s flagship campaign issues has been to increase security for Brazilian citizens. He has portrayed himself as a hardliner who will restore safety to Brazil’s streets, indicating that his government will aim to relax laws restricting the ownership and carrying of guns.

His economic policy plans include proposals to reduce government “waste” and promises to reduce state intervention in the economy. He has also said that he will “cleanse” Brazil of corrupt politicians, and that Brazil could pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Leftist Fernando Haddad

A 55-year-old former São Paulo mayor and education minister, he is the son of a family of Lebanese immigrants.

He replaced former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – currently serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges – as the presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party.

Haddad has campaigned on a promise to make Brazil a more inclusive country for all its citizens. He said that if elected his government would invest in the public sector to stimulate the economy.

As a former education minister, it comes as little surprise that Mr Haddad argues that making education accessible to all should be a key priority. He argues this approach would be the best way to narrow the wide gap between the rich and poor in Brazil. “Every human being has to get up and have a destination, whether that is the university, a school, day care for their child, a workplace, a dignified job, a small business,” he said in a radio interview.

What led to Bolsonaro’s win?

The previous President Michel Temer had a public approval rating of only 2%, which meant that many Brazilians were hungry for political change. And since he was a Democratic President, citizens had lost faith in democracy after the downfall of their nation. They were fed up with the corruption scandals in the past that had seen dozens of high-ranking politicians and influential businesspeople go to jail.

Bolsonaro – who says he will root out corruption, although he has given few details as to how he plans to do this – has benefited from this anger directed at the established political parties. In the opinion polls, many of the voters who said they would cast their vote for him said they would do so because they did not want to see the Workers’ Party return to power.

Is Brazil moving towards a dictatorship, again?

Brazil emerged from the shadow of a military dictatorship more than three decades ago, leaving behind an era stained by torture and extrajudicial killings. 

Bolsonaro’s rise from a fringe congressman to presidency has come against a backdrop of economic downturn, political turmoil, mammoth of corruption scandals and rising violence in Brazil.

He is expected to stuff his cabinet with generals and ex-military men. During a campaign speech transmitted to thousands of supporters, Bolsonaro vowed to banish leftist “criminals” from Brazil, outlaw land rights groups, weed liberal thought from schools and encourage police to use lethal force. He has also pledged a “cleansing never seen before” which many activists and opposition leaders have termed as a threat for “bloody cleansing” or “massacre”. 

None of this is any different than what the previous dictatorial rule achieved.

And Bolsonaro is an outspoken supporter of Brazil’s brutal and repressive 1964-1985 military dictatorship, a period when hundreds of political opponents were murdered by the state and thousands more tortured. In fact he has repeatedly spoken of the generals during the dictatorship period saying that their biggest flaw was that they didn’t kill enough dissidents. 

Parts of this article were originally published in AlJazeera and on BBC news.

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