Brazil says yes to Right
Brazil’s newly elected President is provocatively Right, often violently ridiculing the Left – yet, he managed to secure a victory with 55 per cent votes
As expected, the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party won last Sunday's Presidential elections in Brazil, securing 55.1 per cent of the total votes, against his rival Fernando Haddad of the leftwing Workers' Party, who secured 44.8 per cent. Though the difference isn't substantial, the fierce anti-left nature of the President-elect and his announcement that he will eliminate reds and end the flirtation with leftism in Brazil sends ominous signals for the future of democracy in not only his own country but in the entire Latin American region.
Brazil, with its 210 million population, is the largest country in Latin America and the fifth-most populous country in the world after China, India, USA and Indonesia. It has the eighth-highest GDP in the world and the economy is rich with huge mineral resources, apart from agriculture, manufacturing and even an own armament industry. Brazil was ruled by the leftwing Workers' Party-led coalition including the Brazilian Communist Party, first by the President Luiz Lula De Silva from 2003-2011 and then Dilma Rousseff from 2011 to August 2016, until she was removed from power through an unconstitutional impeachment motion.
The early period of Lula's rule was marked by massive improvements in the living standards of the poor, as the Lula government spent huge funds from its burgeoning revenues, accrued from high oil prices. There was 30 per cent rise in the number of people who came out of the poverty level. The situation deteriorated in the last phase of the Workers' Party rule as the oil revenues dwindled and the economy began showing strains. The opposition, aided by the big business and multinational US companies, took full advantage of this and conspired to bring down the Dilma government. The ruling coalition partners were bribed and, finally, the rightists staged a coup by passing an impeachment motion against Dilma. Michel Temer, against whom many corruption charges are pending, was made the president and, under him, the presidential elections were held, leading to the win of the far-right candidate.
Lula was still the most popular political figure of Brazil's electoral politics because of the real benefits brought in by his economic and social policies – increasing the rights of women, Afro and indigenous Brazilians, LGBTQ people, workers and the poor. So, the Workers' Party and allies wanted to run him for president once more. But, in April, Lula was jailed under dubious charges of
corruption and money laundering. All efforts for his release, so he could run for president once more, failed right before the first round of the presidential elections on October 7.
To replace Lula as their presidential candidate, the Workers' Party chose former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, with former legislator Manuela d'Avila of the Communist Party of Brazil as his vice-presidential running mate. Polls had predicted that Bolsonaro would do well in the first round; but when the votes were tallied, he had done much better than expected – with 46.03 per cent of the vote, he came close to winning the presidency without the need for a runoff. Haddad came in a distant second, with 29.28 per cent of the vote. The rest of the vote was split among 11 other candidates.
So, with just three weeks to go to the runoff, the Haddad campaign had to win over enough votes from the left, centrist and even conservative candidates, to overcome Bolsonaro's big head start. Many candidates eliminated in the runoff were less than helpful, either refusing to endorse Haddad or working for Bolsonaro.
Senior Journalists point out that Bolsonaro's ferocious "tough on crime" line may have appealed to Brazilians who are deeply concerned about the palpable erosion of personal security in the country. In addition, Bolsonaro received massive support from big business interests, from right-wing Evangelical Christian leaders and churches, and from sections of the military who, as he does, hanker for the days of the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, when military officers could steal, torture and kill with impunity.
Bolsonaro has promised to open up territory reserved for indigenous Brazilians — and for descendants living in escaped slave colonies, as well as nature reserves — to ruthless economic exploitation by agribusiness and mining interests. He has announced that Brazil will be a Christian country and he will rule with the Bible alongside the Constitution.
He has characterised Afro-Brazilians as fat and lazy and denounced the past government's help to African countries, which he has described in a similar vein as President Trump. He has said that he will pull Brazil out of the United Nations, which he considers to be a "den of communists" and also out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
He has called for the jailing of members of the Landless People's Movement, saying he will get rid of the "reds", joked about raping people and said that he would rather have his son die than be gay. He will align Brazil with the United States and Israel. These are attractive positions from the point of view of important sectors of the Brazilian and international ruling class. Perhaps, for that reason, employers pressured and threatened their employees to vote for Bolsonaro.
An examination of the demographics and economics of the voting shows that Haddad's support came from the poorest communities in Brazil and Bolsonaro's from the wealthiest areas. The geographical pattern of the vote also reveals its racial dimension: Haddad won the great majority of the states (of the 27 in Brazil) entirely in the Northeast region. This region is characterised by a lower percentage of Brazilians classified as "white" i.e., of European origin, than other areas of Brazil where Bolsonaro won. For example, in the Northeastern state of Maranhão, which has a Communist governor (Flávio Dino) and where whites are only 25.5 per cent of the population, Haddad won. But in the state of Paraná, in the far south, whites are 73 per cent and Bolsonaro swept the state. The state of Pará, in the Northeast, is only 23 per cent white, and went to Haddad; while Santa Catarina in the south, which is 87 per cent white, went to Bolsonaro.
This suggests that the lower income, working-class and minority Brazilians still constitute the core of dissent against whatever policies Bolsonaro will now impose. The Communist Party of Brazil pointed out in a post-election statement that the election results have profound implications for the whole of Latin America and called for the unity of all progressive and democratic forces to push back against the growing fascist threat.
The Brazilian left parties have hard battles ahead in the coming days. They still have 44 per cent of the population. This has to be expanded to include others to present a real fight back to the hardcore rightwing President Bolsonaro.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief, IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal)