A Tale of Two Foes – A Digest of Brazil’s Election

Written by: Garrett Halak

A tale of two opponents who garnered nationwide hatred and adoration has come to a conclusion. Current president, Jair Bolsonaro – also known as the “Trump of the Tropics” – and previous president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) – “The most hated and loved man in Brazil,” exchanged passionate statements of detestation throughout the campaign. However, on October 30th, the race characterized by extreme polarization and political divisiveness came to a close with Lula defeating Bolsonaro. Over 156 million registered voters took to the polls, narrowly deeming Lula as Brazil’s next president by only a 1.0% margin – 50.9% versus 49.1%

Brazil requires all literate citizens, ages 18-70, to vote in the presidential election. Those 16-17 or 71+ (along with the illiterate) are not required but allowed to vote. Brazil’s electoral system falls under majority rule where an election can only be called if 50% of the votes are obtained by a single candidate. 

Current President Jair Bolsonaro 

Bolsonaro is considered “far-right” and currently represents the Liberal Party as the sitting president since 2019. Bolsonaro’s supportive electoral base is social conservatives who resonated with his promise to improve law and order. Among the prominent supporter bases, evangelical Christians, businesspeople, and rural landowners are Bolsonaro’s most loyal advocates. 

A former military officer and extremely controversial figure, Bolsonaro’s term was characterized by tax cuts, a strengthening of Brazil’s military, a reduction in gun regulations, and extreme destruction of the Amazon rainforest in the interest of corporate wealth. Bolsonaro downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 which resulted in over 688,000 deaths and an influx of baseless medicinal practices. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro increased assistance offered to poor Brazilians by implementing the Auxio Brasil program in 2021 – a newly revamped welfare program. This provided financial stability and other support measures to the nation’s poor much like those seen in the US and Europe. Not much different than the previous Bolsa Familia – instated by Lula – the payment to Brazil’s poorest doubled from 200 to 400 Reals. Nevertheless, a turbulent couple of years prompted a narrow 28% approval rating of Bolsonaro’s handling of his job in office. 

Incoming President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

An ex-convict and six-time presidential campaigner, Lula’s popularity can be described as far from fixed. Lula was former president from 2003 to 2010 and finished his term with an approval rating of 83% – extremely high by Democratic standards. His prior approval rating can be attributed to the successful social programs which, according to Brazilian government data, brought extreme poverty in Brazil from 12% in 2003 to 4.8% in 2008. Beyond monthly payments, families were required to prove that their children were in school and the family obtained satisfactory vaccinations, thereby enhancing the equality of Brazil’s poor. Despite term success, Lula was sentenced to 10 years in prison following a bout of corruption and money laundering convictions, driving a downward shift in support. Nonetheless, Lula was freed from house arrest after a Supreme Court ruling that indicated a lack of due process. 

Lula’s policy platforms contradict Bolsonaro’s. In his upcoming term, he aims to strengthen environmental regulation to protect the Amazon, increase global cooperation, and combat low population growth, rising inequality, and perpetual hunger crises. Additionally, Lula is hoping to eliminate the cap on public spending and plans on increasing taxes on the wealthy. Lula is long known for his progressive stance on civil rights and the fight against discrimination, going so far as to call homophobia a “perverse disease.” Nevertheless, Lula does oppose abortion but diverts involvement in this controversial issue to the nation’s courts. 

Nationwide Protests and Election Denialism Post Election

Given the tumultuous party divide that increased political strife and social resentment, Lula offered thanks to the people of Brazil and aimed his acceptance speech at unification efforts. 

On the Sunday night of the election results, Lula stated that “as of January 1, 2023, I will govern for 215 million Brazilians and not just for those who voted for me.” He further emphasized an urgency to end tense party relations by contending that “there are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, and one great nation.”

Despite Lula’s words of affirmations and unification sentiments, in the 44 hours of radio silence before Bolsanaro’s cloudy concession, truckers took to the streets to protest Bolsonaro’s loss and insinuate that the electoral process was wrought with fraud. Closely reflective of the United States’ Republican distrust of election results, Bolsonaro’s close relations with former President Donald Trump promoted similar apprehensions among supporters. 

Despite Bolsonaro breaking his silence and acknowledging (but not accepting) the election loss, objections continued. A strong evangelical base took to the streets to pray for an election reversal. Highways were blockaded by thousands and access to Brazil’s most prominent airport was cut off. Bolsonaro continued to urge protestors “to clear the roads and protest elsewhere,” further stating that this was not only impacting people’s mobility but hurting the economy – a matter that Bolsonaro supporters care about strongly. After continued protests, a lack of transportation access to provide both food and fuel to Brazilians forced a prompt Supreme Court decision to forcibly remove protestors

With what seemed like an unexpectedly tame Bolsonaro, election denialism rose to the forefront in late November. Despite a weary acceptance of loss, Bolsonaro filed a petition that alleged that some voting machines had malfunctioned and that any votes through these channels be deemed null. While remarks were exchanged between Bolsonaro and the opposing liberal party, little progress or momentum has been made in light of this petition.   

The Road Ahead

While Bolsonaro’s defeat means an end to his presidency, parallels to the former United States president, Donald Trump, indicate a continued influence out of office. Having received the third highest number of votes of any candidate (over 58 million) Bolsonaro is expected to remain present in the political scene and is likely to run in the 2026 election. Nonetheless, Brazil’s future in Lula’s hands means a shift in not only nationwide policy but also international involvement.  

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