Gerald Steven, World
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Brazil just elected a far-right President. What’s next for the country?

By: Gerald Steven

With Jair Bolsonaro’s election victory, Brazil ends its period of liberal democracy, and marks a return to its old military dictatorship.

Brazil’s 2018 Presidential election ended on October 28 with Jair Bolsonaro winning the majority vote. Bolsonaro, a member of the Social Liberal Party, received 55% of the votes, while his opponent from the Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, registered only 45% of the votes. Brazil’s most recent Presidential election came after a turbulent time. The country’s  former President, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016. Numerous corruption scandals committed by the country’s top business and political figures have been discovered, and the country is still recovering from a recession. Brazil’s socio-political atmosphere suggests that its newest President will be paramount in determining how the country will face its crises. But who exactly is Jair Bolsonaro? And what does his victory mean for the future of Brazil?

To the outside world, Bolsonaro is an unfamiliar name. Recently however, Bolsonaro has been criticised as misogynistic, homophobic, and militaristic, earning him the title: “Brazilian Donald Trump.” Just a month before the election, Bolsonaro was stabbed by a protester at a campaign rally in Minas Gerais, and against all odds, he continued his presidential run.

Since 1991, the 63-year-old former army captain served as a congressman for Rio de Janeiro in Brazil’s lower house Chamber of Deputies. He was initially only involved in Rio de Janeiro’s politics until 2014, when the country faced economic crises. Matias Spektor, a professor of international relations at the Vargas Foundations, said that Bolsonaro, “was always an unimpressive backbencher, he was never a party boss… or had a programmatic agenda that was of any significance. Until four years ago, Bolsonaro was not a household name in Brazilian politics.”

Political analysts believe that Bolsonaro rose to popularity because of his reaction to the crises that were happening in the country. As Brazil had to deal with widespread corruption, including the infamous “Car Wash” scandal and the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, Bolsonaro presented himself as a prominent alternative to the status quo of corrupt politicians. “The overall discreditment of establishment politicians resulting from the worst recession in 100 years, the biggest corruption scandal ever detected, and the never-ending deterioration in crime and homicide have caused the rise of Bolsonaro,” said Brian Winter, the Vice President of policy at the Americas Society.

In spite of his dedication to crack down corruption, Bolsonaro exhibits aims and policies reminiscent of Brazil’s military dictatorship that ruled from 1964 to 1985. Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship and authoritarian government of the past. He called the period of military rule  in Brazil as “glorious”. Bolsonaro is also already planning to appoint military leaders to top positions in government. Although in his victory speech Bolsonaro vowed that his government would be “constitutional and democratic,” political analysts believe that Bolsonaro has interest in strengthening the military. He is also interested in arming the general population to tackle criminals and escalating urban violence. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2017 alone, the country recorded 63,880 homicides. Bolsonaro has also said that whoever disagrees with him must be a criminal too.

Even Bolsonaro’s environmental policies can seem radically conservative. Similar to Trump’s hostility towards the environment, Bolsoharo wants to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement. Most recently, Bolsonaro hinted at plans to merge Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture with the Ministry of the Environment in order to open the Amazon to industrial and agricultural development. With this plan, over 100 uncontacted Amazonian tribes are at risk of being displaced. In the past, Bolsonaro has said that, “If I become President, there will not be one centimetre more of indigenous land.” Recently he corrected himself and meant not even one millimetre. The last government in Brazil who exploited the Amazon was the military dictatorship.

Similar to Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has favoured a “Brazil first” foreign policy.  Bolsonaro has promised to take a hard line against Nicolas Maduro, the President of Brazil’s neighbour, Venezuela. He has made several offensive comments in the past about China, which happens to be Brazil’s largest foreign investor. His attack against foreign countries is aimed to stimulate the local economy by privatising state industries. Diplomats and former government officials, however, have warned that such a plan could isolate regional markets instead of opening new ones.

Bolsonaro’s victory as a populist president marks a radical shift in Brazil’s democracy. Scott Mainwaring, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said “I can’t think of a more extremist leader in the history of democratic elections in Latin America who has been elected.” Political analysts suspect that with Bolsonaro as president, Brazil is moving dangerously close to its past military dictatorship. But even if Bolsonaro intends to do so, achieving that aim will be extremely challenging. Fighting a system of democracy is not a task for just one man. Brazil’s future is uncertain and can only be predicted once he takes office on January 1, 2019. What is certain is that Brazil is now another country in the ever growing list of nations becoming increasingly conservative.

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