With just a few days to go elections on 7 October, polls indicate a run off in the second round between the small PSL’s ultra right-wing candidate Jair Bolsanaro and the PT’s Fernando Haddad, who shot into second place once Lula was finally banned from standing by the Electoral Court, in the early hours of 1 September.
This election is full of novelties, among them an assassination attempt. Bolsanaro was seriously injured when a man fought his way through the crowds and plunged a knife into his stomach, as the candidate was being carried on the shoulders of enthusiastic supporters. Prompt treatment at a local public hospital in Juiz de Fora saved his life, but the attack removed him from active participation in the campaign. Instead, Bolsanaro tweets and records video messages from his hospital bed in São Paulo, where he was transferred the next day.
The would be assassin, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, who was promptly arrested by federal police agents, said he was following God’s orders. A police inquiry concluded he acted alone, but Bolsanaro and his followers have begun to talk about a political conspiracy and to insinuate that the assailant was being manipulated by the left, in order to remove the front runner from the race.
It is true that many Brazilians are appalled by the prospect of a man becoming President who has spent almost 30 years in congress, without anything to show for it except a stream of insults and hate messages against women, gays, indians, quilombolas, afrobrazilians and poor people in general. But there is no tradition of assassinating political leaders in Brazil.
First round defined
Meanwhile the result of the first round, barring a big upset, is practically defined. Haddad and Bolsonaro will go through to the second round on 28 October. Once he became the PT’s official candidate, Fernando Haddad moved with astonishing speed into second place behind Bolsanaro, overtaking Ciro Gomes, of the PDT.
Haddad’s vice is Manuela D’Avila of the PC do B, while Bolsanaro’s is an ultra reactionary general, Hamilton Mourão. Vices are important in Brazilian politics, where all too often in recent history they have ended up as president.
Haddad was Lula’s Education Minister for 7 years and Mayor of SP for 4 years, but his main challenge is to make himself known to the electorate all over Brazil. The Northeast is solidly pro-Lula, because people know exactly what the PT governments did for them – not just the famous Bolsa Familia, but water cisterns to face the drought, electric light instead of lamps, universities and student grants – so they will vote for anyone who Lula indicates. But many still find Haddad’s name – he is the son of Lebanese immigrants – difficult, and he ends up being called Andrade or Raddad.
What is more surprising is the extent of the support for a previously little known ex-army captain, who openly declares admiration for torturers and wants to open military colleges in every capital and “militarize” education, with the emphasis on patriotism and discipline. Bolsonaro and his followers show a distint nostalgia for the days of the dictatorship. But such is the depth of anti-PT feeling, many Brazilians, including well-educated, well-to-do people declare they will vote for Bolsanaro in spite of his radical message of intolerance and his self-declared ignorance of economic, political and foreign affairs.
Equally surprising is that the PT, seen as mortally wounded after the mensalão, Lava Jato, the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, and an intense media campaign to vilify Lula, has regained support, and is set to elect several state governors, a large number of deputies and senators to the congress, and quite possibly the President.
And now the also rans…
Instead of the PT, it is the PSDB and the PMDB (now using its original name MDB), the two major parties who supported the ‘golpe’ which ousted Dilma in 2016, who are reduced to also-runs in the election, while the PT fights it out with the candidate of a minority party, the PSL (Social Liberal Party).
Ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s appeal to the so called Centrão to unite around one candidate, his own party’s Geraldo Alkmin, who lags way behind in the polls even in his own state, São Paulo, has fallen on deaf ears. The MDB’s Henrique Meirelles, who is claiming credit for the economic success of Lula’s governments when he was head of the Central Bank, glosses over the fact he was Finance Minister of Michel Temer’s government until recently. He continues his campaign, even with only 1% of poll ratings, although his cheery slogan, “Chama Meirelles!” makes him sound more like a plumber than a financier.
Marina Silva of Rede is the only candidate who talks consistently about the need for a green energy policy, but her ratings have plunged. Newcomer Cabo Dacilio, a corporal in the fire service, one of over 80 military candidates, and an evangelical preacher, prophesied that he would be elected, during a TV debate and declared his love for ‘all women, especially my mother’. One viewer commented: ‘he manages to be the craziest and most sensible candidate at the same time.’ Crazy maybe, but very clever at picking on the other candidates’ weak spots and making them squirm under the spotlights.
Mobilizing against Bolsonaro
Lula is said to have told Haddad that the PT should not try and appeal to the centre because ‘the people have shown they do not want a candidate from the centre.’
Women united against Bolsonaro sing: Ele Não
Instead non-party movements against Bolsanaro have been growing. Thousands of women under the slogan Ele, não – Not him- will gather for protests all over Brazil and in other world capitals days before the election.
Bolsonaro is also under attack in the world of football. After one player declared his support for the ex-army captain on the pitch, supporters’ clubs of some of the main teams – Corinthians, Palmeiras, Flamengo and Internacional – launched anti-Bolsonaro manifestos. ‘Flamengo’s fans come from all social segments, men and women, whites and blacks, young and old, rich and poor. They represent the essence of the Brazilian people. Declarations of prejudice by Bolsonaro and his vice, Mourão, above all those which affect the poorest, black, and women, mothers and grandmothers, are unacceptable,’ declared the Flamengo Antifascista movement. The mention of mothers and grandmothers was a reference to a remark by Mourão, who said that children raised by all female families were more likely to end up in drug gangs.
Where the danger lies
Many commentators, and some of the main media, are presenting the dispute between Haddad and Bolsanaro as a dispute between two extremist political forces, neither of them committed to democratic values. Some label it a conflict between two forms of populism.
To compare the PT, which has always sought power through the vote and has rigorously respected the results, even when losing, with Bolsanaro’s group, is to distort the facts. Probably foreseeing defeat in the second round, Bolsonaro has begun to talk about the possibility of election fraud. STF president Dias Toffoli’s response was ironic: ‘When he won seven elections as a deputy, he never talked about fraud’.
Bolsanaro’s vice Mourão has proposed drawing up a new constitution to replace the ‘citizen’ one of 1988, which is regarded as too progressive. The constituent assembly would be a handpicked group of ‘notables’, not congress.
To lump together a party, which, for all its faults, has always respected and played by the rules of the democratic game, with a candidate who openly expresses admiration for a violent dictatorship, is dishonest. If Brazil’s democracy is at risk in these elections, the danger comes from the extreme right, not the PT.