The results of the Brazilian presidential election on October 2 defied opinion polls. The Far Right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro gained more votes than expected against Socialist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The first round has scaled down 11 candidates to just two. Neither of the final candidates achieved an outright majority. Lula’s Worker’s Party won 48.43% of the vote versus Bolsanaro’s Liberal Party, which won 43.20%. So, the intense final run off between the two presidential hopefuls will take place on October 30, leaving four weeks of charged political purgatory in between.
This was not the result many thought Lula would achieve and his supporters have had mixed feelings. Joyous that victory was still in sight, yet fearful of a political upset which has become so familiar in so many fractious democracies around the world.
The discrepancy in the opinion polling (showing that Lula reached highs of a 14-point lead) is still to be seen. Lula’s voter base tends to be amongst poorer Brazilians who are less likely to vote. Slightly lower turnout compared to the last presidential election in 2018 may have impacted Lula negatively.
Bolsanaro’s supporters have taken the results as new hope and confirmation of their scepticism of opinion polls. Recent economic indicators such as unemployment and inflation have been low and high respectively over much of Bolsanaro’s presidency.
However, over the last year these factors have improved, leading to possible optimism, particularly amongst the poor. Bolsonaro has mentioned economic issues throughout the campaign to swipe support away from Lula.
The stakes could not be higher…
The background to the first round of this Brazilian presidential election has been fraught and deeply polarising, with each side claiming disaster if the other succeed. Bolsonaro showed similarities with former American President Donald Trump when, earlier last month, he made unsubstantiated voter fraud claims.
America is especially interested in this election. It could be an omen for its own political future with the similarities of polarisation and political extremes. Trump has endorsed Bolsonaro.
Worryingly, supporters of the two candidates have sometimes broken out into political violence. Bolsonaro has even claimed to “take up arms” and fight in a civil war. This brings nail biting suspense as normal political convention seems to be an endangered species. Not since Brazil returned to democracy in the 1980s, have Brazilians been genuinely fearful of a return to authoritarianism.
Both candidates have political baggage in this election…
There is also a feeling among many Brazilians of picking the least worst option as both Lula and Bolsonaro have plenty of longstanding political baggage. Lula had huge popularity when leaving office in 2010. However, the former President was involved in Brazil’s largest corruption scandal: Operation Car Wash, which led to his conviction for money laundering and corruption in 2017. He was disqualified from running in the 2018 election and served 580 days in jail. The Supreme Court dropped the charges in 2019.
Meanwhile, the use of inflammatory language, the questioning of democratic institutions and playing down the severity of COVID-19 despite Brazil having the fourth highest death toll (over 700,000) in the world has characterised much of Bolsanaro’s presidency. Many also see his policy of rolling back indigenous rights and environmental oversight in the Amazon rainforest as the reason for an increasingly isolated Brazil from the international community.
Ordem e Progresso? With Brazil on a knife edge, no one can be certain after this election.
Featured Image Credit: The Diplomat
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