Inside Brazil’s Most Divisive Election Contest
On October 7th, Brazilians will go to polls to vote in the first round of their presidential election and the campaign has been a turbulent one, to say the least. It is Brazil’s most contested election ever, with a record 13 candidates campaigning. Brazil’s electorate has become increasingly polarised, marred by years of severe economic recession and corruption scandals. In fact, 30% of voters have stated that they do not intend on voting. A lot has changed in Brazil, since their previous presidential election in 2014 when the country was benefitting from the international spotlight of the World Cup and celebrating some of their lowest levels of unemployment this century.
In 2015, President Dilma Rouseff was impeached following a number of political scandals. Following this, in 2017, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was arrested and charged with money laundering. Despite his pending prison sentence, Lula da Silva continued to campaign in the 2018 presidential election up until this August when Brazil’s Super Electoral Court disqualified him from the race under Brazil’s ‘Clean Record Act’ that bars any candidate who has been impeached or convicted from holding political office for at least eight years. Prior to his removal from the race, Lula da Silva was leading with nearly 40% of the vote.
In Lula da Silva’s absence, controversial far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro has moved into the lead. Contrary to their party’s name: Partido Social Liberal (the social liberal party), this is Brazil’s right-wing conservative party. As has been happening in many democracies since the global recession, Bolsonaro, who was previously considered a ‘fringe’ has gained support and is shifting the political centre dramatically to the right. Some of his radical and divisive views include sympathy for Brazil’s previous military dictatorship, advocating the chemical castration of rapists and suggesting the sterilisation of Brazil’s poorer classes. He is widely branded as a homophobe and a misogynist as he is outspoken in his desire to criminalise homosexuality and enforce a gender pay gap. In early September, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a political rally. His wounds were not fatal and he is continuing on the campaign trail.
Bolsonaro has been nicknamed the ‘Trump of Brazil’ and it is not difficult to see why. Like Trump, Bolsonaro has a habit of making highly offensive off the cuff remarks. Some of his most controversial remarks include telling a congresswoman that she was ‘not worthy of being raped’, calling immigrants from Africa and the Middle East ‘the scum of humanity’ and saying equating same-sex parents to paedophiles when saying that ‘children who are adopted by gay couples will be abused by these couples’. Unlike Trump however, Bolsonaro has been fined in court on numerous occasions for crimes of hate speech.
Bolsonaro’s support has risen to 28% in opinion polls, but opposition figures are rising too. On September 29th, tens of thousands of women took the streets of Brazil’s major cities to protest Bolsonaros’s likely victory next month. The campaign known as #EleNao meaning #NotHim began in social media, with a closed facebook group gaining two million members since its creation in August.
Coming in second place in opinion polls is Lula da Silva’s replacement candidate Fernando Haddad of Partido dos Trabalhadores (the Workers Party). In third place is lawyer and former Minister for Finance Ciro Gomes of the centre-left Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Democratic Labour Party). In fourth position is Geraldo Alckmin of the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) but there are allegations of corruption surrounding Alckmin in relation to his previous successful campaigns for Governor or Sao Paulo in 2010 and 2014. The only woman running is environmentalist Maria Silva of Brazil’s centre left party Rede Sustentabilidade (sustainability network) is currently in fifth place and previously came third in the 2014 election.
Brazil’s elections operate on a two round system, whereby if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in round one, then the two leading candidates compete in a second round of voting that will take place on October 28th. If current opinion polls are correct, the second round of voting will see the Brazilian electorate will be asked to choose between Bolsonaro and Haddad. They will face a similar conundrum as Americans did in 2016; a bold and radical political outsider or a representative of the political establishment that many see as seriously corrupt. With the disillusioned Brazilian middle class throwing their support to Bolsonaro, we will likely see his victory and therefore witness the most dramatic shift in Brazilian politics since the end of their dictatorship. On the other hand, in a campaign that has already featured prison convictions, hate speech and assassination attempts, anything could happen.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor