For the first time since 1985 Brazilians have elected a far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency. In a landslide victory of 58 million votes, Bolsonaro defeated left-wing candidates such as Fernando Heddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), shaking the Brazilian centre-left establishment to its core. A former paratrooper under the military regime and a politician since 1991, Bolsonaro came to be defined as an ardent public supporter and apologist of the Brazilian military dictatorship that ended in 1985, a regime in which rampant human rights abuses such as murder, rape and the torture of dissidents occurred under the watchful eye and orchestration of the state.
Bolsonaro was first thrust into the public eye in 2014 through his inflammatory statements regarding Former-Congresswoman Maria do Rosario following her public condemnation of human rights violations perpetrated under the military regime. Bolsonaro was recorded shouting such insults as ‘I would not rape you. You don’t merit that.’ and referring to Rosario as a ‘slut’ during a congressional hearing. Bolsonaro’s entire tirade took place in the presence of Former-President Dilma Rousseff, who had been a victim of torture and imprisonment under the dictatorship. Bolsonaro proudly reiterates these views time and time again throughout his career as a politician, in which he paints himself as a political outsider, willing to provide a scathing challenge to previous corrupt political figures in the same fashion as other stars on the right such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders.
Bolsonaro’s electoral win has unfortunately formed another part of the wider political trend of attacking neoliberal values, destabilising the progressive political establishment, and appealing to the nostalgia of previous decades to influence policymaking. In a public address, Bolsonaro advocated for a violent and militaristic response to left-wing dissidence, stating that ‘These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a clean-up the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.’ He vowed to let the previous president rot in jail and claimed that the leaders of Brazil’s landless workers’ movement (MST) would be designated as terrorists. This brand of authoritarianism toward political opposition in Brazil and many other countries has been allowed to develop and gradually take power, as the Left flounders and the liberal global consensus grinds to a halt.
One can see from Bolsonaro’s election that when large portions of a population become widely disenfranchised, grand societal change can become enticing from whomever it is posed, one may not agree with Bolsonaro’s incendiary rhetoric but want to see noticeable changes. A large portion of Bolsonaro support base is comprised of disenfranchised yet politically active youth drawn towards the right-wing, that grew up under the unstable centre-left policies of the Workers Party (PT) between 2003 and 2016. Bolsonaro was able to effectively use the power of social media to promote his campaign and garner support among Brazilian youth raised within the culture of misleading news, and constant political and economic scandals. However, many of his younger supporters did not experience the oppression and violence used by the dictatorship as a means to stay in power yet have still chosen to subscribe to Bolsonaro’s pandering to ‘better times,’ as they feel that he provides an adequate means of large-scale societal change.
One can see from Bolsonaro’s election that when large portions of a population become widely disenfranchised, grand societal change can become enticing from whomever it is posed, one may not agree with Bolsonaro’s incendiary rhetoric but want to see noticeable changes. In a country that sees 60,000 deaths a year from violent crime, the Brazilian right-wing provide heavy-handed, graspable yet overly simplified solutions to this problem, often appealing to militarised responses to organised crime. Rather than an abstract notion of social reform on a socio-economic level, Bolsonaro poses an aggressive approach that appeals to widespread public outrage toward huge amounts of organised crime. Political tactics such as scapegoating, defamation, inflated rhetoric and nationalist sentiment have been overtly used in other countries but has become completely amplified within a Brazilian setting, highlighting the need for an organised political defence within the political institution and on the streets. Bolsonaro decided to play the establishment at their own game within the electoral system yet has articulated his hatred for this system; ‘You’ll never change anything in this country through voting. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, things will only change when a civil war kicks off and we do the work the [military] regime didn’t.’ According to Mauricio Santoro of the Guardian; ‘Bolsonaro surfed a wave of anger and mistrust in Brazil’s institutions, but he was also skilful in understanding that the rules had changed.’ Bolsonaro has ultimately shown that the far-right aim first to destabilize the current status-quo from inside through the electoral system and once established, they can set to work upon authoritarian plans to dismantle everything from social policy to environmental protections and civil rights.
Bolsonaro’s election reflects the ever-quickening collapse of the liberal socio-economic order and the way in which the right-wing has taken the global initiative with regards radical change and political opposition. A void has been opened between the working class and left-wing movements as they have not posed an adequate and unified alternative to combat rampant conservative populism. The right-wing has in-part filled that void with their enticing rhetoric and scapegoating, but one will, in turn, find that behind these policies echo more sinister motivations. The left needs to learn a valuable lesson, as it watches countries drift toward the politics of division and hatred, it must, in turn, reconcile with the working classes and provide grander transformative policy. One will not find these policies with lame neoliberal political candidates but with leaders who promote radical progressive change. Now more than ever, the need for an enthused, united and international leftist movement to combat the right wing in a similar fashion to that of the right is paramount.
By Aaron Collier – Features Writer