Brazil Elects Jair Bolsonaro For President

With 55% of votes, former Army captain defeats Fernando Haddad and becomes Brazil 42nd president

Igor Gielow
São Paulo

Jair Messias Bolsonaro, 63, is Brazil's 42nd president -- the eighth since the end of the military regime (1964-1985), a period in Brazilian history that he admittedly admires, also underplaying the dictatorial natural of said regime.

Bolsonaro, a House representative for PSL-RJ, defeated on Sunday (28th) the former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad (PT), with 55% of the valid votes.

Bolsonaro led the most surprising presidential run since the 1989 election, from the moment when former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), arrested in April for corruption charges, was declared ineligible, in August.

Haddad, the party's backup plan that strategically was placed as Lula's running mate, became the Workers' Party new candidate and managed to make it to the runoff, but was never presented a serious threat to the controversial right-wing candidate.

Bolsonaro will be the tenth president in History to come from the Army ranks, and the third to come into office through direct votes.

With aggressive rhetoric and collecting controversial soundbites that have him called radical, fascist, and more, he is the first elected president since Fernando Collor (1989) to openly declare to be right wing. 

His democratic credentials are constantly questioned, also a first in presidential elections since Collor. A week ago, he publicly said that his adversaries should be arrested or exiled, while a video where his son Eduardo said it was easy to close the Supreme Court went viral.

The campaign had even more firsts. The most notable was the Bolsonaro's stabbing during a rally in Juiz de Fora (MG), on September 6th. The attack nearly killed the candidate and kept him out of canvassing until the end. Bolsonaro turned his hospital room and, afterward, his house in Rio de Janeiro into his headquarters, where he recorded videos for social media and received supporters.

The attack also disorganized his opponents' strategies and allowed Bolsonaro to escape the scrutiny of televised debates - he only took part in two during the first round, before the stabbing, and he preferred to avoid confrontations with Haddad during the runoff.

Although defeated, the Workers' Party elected the biggest caucus in Brazil's House of Representatives. But the election was also a sort of referendum over Lula's legacy since PT campaign associated Haddad with Lula in an explicit manner.

Bolsonaro broke a series of four consecutive PT presidential wins. More than that, he rode a right-wing tsunami that expelled several left-wing and traditional politicians from the Congress and also rose new names in the state governors' races.

The anti-PT feeling impersonated by Bolsonaro turned the other conservative parties into a wasteland. PSDB, which gained half of the votes in 2014 and lost by a hair to PT, is practically extinct in its present incarnation.

Bolsonaro's success is rooted in the 2013 street protests, where an anti-establishment feeling took over the country. The following year, Operation Car Wash entered the scene, toppling several PT politicians and their allies on corruption charges.

In 2016, the recession brought a political environment favorable to impeaching president Dilma Rousseff (PT), and her successor Michel Temer (MDB) buried himself in endless political and ethical crises. Temer's failure gave PT some strength, but in the end, Haddad couldn't create a cohesive narrative to go past the party's leniency with its bad actors, and alienated potential allies.

Bolsonaro's rise was primarily ignored by Brazil's political establishment until late 2017 when his resilient voting intentions behind Lula turned him into the center of attention.

But Bolsonaro was hitting the streets since 2014. Better yet, he was all over the cloud, in the digital world where he set up an effective if not controversial advertising strategy.

The intense use of social media to both multiply his message and speak directly to his base was a tactic taken from the US campaign -- it's not by chance that Bolsonaro says he is a great fan of Donald Trump.

Like the United States president, he is accused of spreading fake news and misinformation, which he denies. But as Folha showed last week, businesspeople connected to the president-elect financed a negative campaign against PT on WhatsApp. The Electoral Justice and Federal Police are investigating if there were criminal activities and any direct connections with Bolsonaro's team. That will be a shadow that will follow Bolsonaro into office.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

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