On October 28, far-right Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro won the of Brazilian presidency with a commanding 10-point lead. Throughout this election, international commentators have called Bolsonaro “Brazil’s Trump,” and less frequently compared him to other extreme authoritarian leaders such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Rather than focusing on the issues that affect Brazilians, the media chose to cover Bolsonaro’s shocking remarks and compare him to Trump, much in the same fashion as was done in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
In truth, Bolsonaro’s statements are fairly newsworthy. When a colleague of his accused Bolsonaro of rape, he replied that she “wasn’t worthy of it,” implying that she was too ugly to be raped.
Another example of his political discourse is his speech on dedicating his vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. In the speech, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to Colonel Brilhante Ustra, who led the division that tortured Rousseff while she was a prisoner of the military dictatorship.
However, it is important to note that many Brazilians were willing to ignore these incendiary comments simply because of the bleak future Brazil already faces. Brazil’s democratic institutions have been weakened by rampant corruption and crime throughout the country, as well as poor government management by the Workers Party (PT), which was in power from 2003 to 2016.
Many of the problems in Brazil today are a product of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s disastrous spending policies, rampant corruption in Lula’s party, the PT, and the numerous gangs operating in Brazil. Lula became president in a time of relative prosperity for Brazil, allowing him to enumerate massive welfare spending in the Constitution. Today, Brazil’s income is nowhere near enough to support this spending, creating massive debt and corruption. This led former President Dilma Rousseff to cover up the lack of income for spending through an accounting procedure known as fiscal backpedaling.
During Lula’s administration, a great deal of corruption, particularly relating to state-owned oil company Petrobras and senior members of the PT, caused much discontent with the ruling party, a sentiment which seems to be the driving force for Bolsonaro. Given that Bolsonaro’s second-round opponent was handpicked by Lula, it makes sense that many people voted for Bolsonaro simply because they could not stomach another four years of PT rule in Brazil.
When coupled with the massive economic failures, as well as the rampant crime in Brazil, many voters turn to the far right with inflated promises. The crime rate, especially, has become the most important issue for Brazilians. Unlike the U.S. and U.K., where the economy is doing well and most people are in fairly good situations, many Brazilians fear for their lives when they walk out of the front door.
Gang operations in poor neighborhoods have resulted in off-the-charts violent crime. According to The Guardian, in 2016 alone, over 60,000 murders occurred, amounting to about 198 murders a day. Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman known for advocating against gangs, was shot and killed in her car. Judges overseeing cases against gangs have been threatened with murder.
When faced with such danger, it’s easy to imagine why the majority of Brazilians would turn to a man who promises to put the military in the streets and restore order and ignore some of his more uncomfortable statements. After all, Brazil does not want to be another failed Latin American state like Venezuela.
However, authoritarianism is not the answer. Rather, Brazilians need measured, experienced leadership to draw them out of this crisis. It is undeniable that some kind of radical reform is needed, and that drastic steps must be taken. Unfortunately, Bolsonaro’s vision is in the wrong direction.
While solid leadership was not made available in this year’s election, forcing voters to choose the candidate that would damage Brazil less in four years, one can only hope that the media will cover Brazil more responsibly in the future, so that a course correction can be made in 2022. Next time, instead of focusing on awful comments and statements, the media must begin covering the real issues facing Brazil, acknowledging the grievances of the people and fight on the turf that handed Bolsonaro the presidency: crime, the economy and corruption in the PT administration.