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Brazil: as the dust settles, the picture is grim

Bolsonaro didn’t win the first round outright, but…


On Sunday night we watched in horror as Bolsonaro’s percentage of the vote crept up to 47%, 48%…it seemed clear that he would win the election on the first round. But then the votes from the Northeast states began to trickle in and his numbers fell, while Haddad’s rose. In the end, Jair Bolsonaro, the extreme right-wing candidate, scored 46% of valid votes, while Fernando Haddad of the PT, reached 29%.  Ciro Gomes managed just over 12% but all the other candidates, whether of the left, right or centre were reduced to single figures. Abstentions, blank and null votes totalled almost 30%. This means there will be a runoff in three weeks time, on 28 October. Outside, once the results were decided, the street erupted with shouts of ‘Ele Não’ (Not him) and ‘Ele Sim’ –(Yes him).

Lest we forget who Jair Bolsonaro is…

This short video shows Bolsonaro dedicating his vote for the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff to Colonel Ustra, a famous torturer during the military dictatorship. The video gives examples of some of the ways Colonel Ustra used to torture his prisoners. These include the insertion of a mouse through a funnel into a prisoner’s anus, so it would gnaw at his or her intestines; and bringing a woman’s four- and five-year-old children into the torture chamber so that they could see her naked and covered in urine, being tortured. And then, chillingly, Bolsonaro says that his favourite bedside reading is a book by Ustra. The full video of Bolsonaro’s speech in Congress, demanding Dilma’s impeachment is below:

Immediately after the final result was declared, Haddad made a speech calling for the democratic forces of all parties to unite around him and defeat fascism. He promised that his government would look out for the poorest and weakest members of society. But Bolsonaro appeared on social media claiming fraud in some of the electronic voting machines, in direct defiance of the Electoral Tribunal which earlier in the day had staged a ceremony of self congratulation in the presence of OAS observers over this ‘festival of democracy’. Video showing the claims made by Flavio, son of Jair Bolsonaro, using footage shot by voters in the voting booths in Minas Gerais, claiming to show how the fraud was committed. The electoral tribunal (TSE) investigated and ruled that the video was deliberately edited to misrepresent the voting sequence. Flavio thanked the TSE and withdrew the allegation. But the doubt had been well and truly sown. Bolsonaro also made overtures to the voters in the nine states of the northeast, whose overwhelming support for Haddad had prevented the ex-army captain from winning outright in the first round.  In his patronising, not to say offensive, message, Bolsonaro told them they had been coerced into voting for the PT, that basically they were decent, humble, conservative people and just as Brazilian as anyone else.  The Northeast, however, not only voted for the PT’s presidential candidate, but also elected governors and senators from PT and other left-wing parties, like the PSB and the PDT.
Video showing (from an interview with Globo TV) Bolsonaro’s appeal to voters in the northeast and denial that he would cancel the Bolsa Familia programme. The PT continues to be the largest party in the chamber of deputies, although its numbers have dropped from 61 to 56. All the major parties have lost seats, but Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, has mushroomed from 8 to 53 seats. The 513-member chamber of deputies is now atomized between many mid-sized parties. The PSDB, whose presidential candidate came fourth with less than 5% of the vote, saw its presence shrink on the national scene, is in crisis.  Marina Silva was reduced to a miserable 1% of the vote, but curiously her party, the Rede de Sustentabilidade (Sustainability Network), elected a record number of senators, five. The legislative elections marked a record rate of renewal in both houses of congress, as well as in state assemblies. Many household names and political dynasties, of both right and left, disappeared from the scene.  Of the 54 senate seats up for election, an astonishing 46 went to new names. On the right, the Sarneys, the  Maias, the Alves, the Richas, Romero Jucá and Edison Lobão  have been given their marching orders.  On the left the PT’s Eduardo Suplicy and Jorge Viana, and PSOL’s Chico Alencar failed to get elected. Cristovam Buarque amd Roberto Requião, other familiar figures on the centre left, also lost their seats.
Joenia Wapixana. Photo: The Institute for Inclusive Security/CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia
In compensation a record number of women, Afro-Brazilian and LGBT people were elected. Brazil’s first female indigenous congresswoman, Joenia Wapixana from Roraima, will take her seat in Brasilia. Not since Mario Juruna was elected in the 1980s has there been an Indian in congress. However, new pro-Bolsonaro faces achieved huge votes: over a million votes went to Bolsonaro’s  son Eduardo, while Janaina Paschoal, who achieved notoriety during the impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff, clocked up a record two million votes for state deputy in São Paulo. Also elected was a fair sprinkling of majors, colonels, corporals and commanders, both men and women, including a number of firemen, perhaps a wise precaution for what promises to be an incendiary time. The head of a minority party, in a fragmented parliament, some commentators  believe Bolsonaro will ditch traditional methods for achieving governability by negotiating with other parties, and instead, appeal over their heads to his millions of loyal followers, via social media, inviting them to pressure and intimidate congress to get what he wants. Bolsonaro has already shown he has scant regard for the rules of democracy. The first round of the elections was enveloped in a barrage of fake news about fraud, and slanders against Haddad. He simply ignored the TSE’s declarations about the fairness of the election and the lack of any evidence of fraud, to claim he had been cheated of an outright victory. In the three weeks before the second round, Bolsonaro will now face the scrutiny he has so far avoided, partly because he was recovering from an assassination attempt, and was able to refuse to appear on live TV debates; but also because he does not seem to have a detailed programme of government. Meanwhile Haddad is beginning to mobilize support, not around the PT but around the banner of democracy.  He has earned a reprieve, but he needs to win over not just Ciro Gomes’ 12% of voters, but many of those who voted for Geraldo Alkmin and all the smaller parties. But their visceral anti-PT sentiment means that many tucanos (PSDB supporters) have already thrown in their lot with Bolsonaro. It seems that Brazilians could be marching willingly into an unknown world, where might is right and an army captain decides their fate. In Weimar Germany in 1933 a mere corporal played this role.

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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