Editorial

Age of Bolsonaro: on Brazil's newly elected President

In electing retired army Captain Jair Bolsonaro as its President, Brazil has chosen to be governed by a man described as the “Trump of the Tropics”, after the 45th U.S. President, Donald Trump. Mr. Bolsonaro swept a runoff election over the weekend, winning nearly 55% of the vote to defeat the left-of-centre Fernando Haddad. Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign, run largely on social media, evoking comparisons to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, vowed to tackle political corruption and economic mismanagement, and crack down hard on rising crime, especially gang violence. That this campaign promise resonated more with Brazilian voters than they were put off by Mr. Bolsonaro’s dangerously regressive outbursts and polarising verbal attacks denigrating women and minorities, supporting torture, and threatening opponents with violence, says much about the mood of the nation today. However, years from now, Brazilian pollsters, like the political pundits baffled by Mr. Trump’s win, will be asking how a presidential candidate such as Mr. Bolsonaro, who also openly professed his love of dictatorships, could not only find acceptance but soar meteorically in its domestic politics. To comprehend this outcome and the path on which Brazil has put itself in electing Mr. Bolsonaro, it is important to remember the legacy of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his leftist Workers’ Party.

 

When Brazil’s military dictatorship ended in 1985, the balance of power tipped toward leaders of centrist and leftist leanings. After Mr. da Silva, known as Lula, and his Workers’ Party won in 2003, they settled in for 13 years of rule, including five years under Dilma Rousseff. Throughout this period the government made alleviating the poverty of millions of Brazilians its top priority and achieved remarkable strides in this space. Yet, over time Brazil’s political class became corruption-stained, and at some point most voters lost faith in that leadership. That happened as the economy gradually descended into deep recession, even as the far-reaching Petrobras “Car Wash” corruption scandal started toppling dozens of political and business elites across the spectrum, culminating in the controversial impeachment of Ms. Rousseff in 2016 and then the jailing of Mr. da Silva in April 2018 with a 12-year sentence for corruption and money-laundering. In the longest arc of history, the rise and fall of Brazil’s leftist politics may have brought succour to the most vulnerable demographic but it left the middle class feeling neglected. Now, the backlash is complete. Mr. Bolsonaro brings to high office the promise to reduce regulation and tax and boost investor confidence, and also the threat to more extensively exploit Brazil’s vast natural resources, including the Amazon rainforest; he has proposed to build a highway through it. This, along with his disdain for the Paris climate change accord, could mark a disturbing departure from Brazil’s historical sensitivity to keeping its precious environmental resources intact.

 


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 10:32:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/age-of-bolsonaro/article25383441.ece

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