Brazil Just Elected “Brazilian Trump”

Theo Brandt ‘22

October 2018

Brazil is the most recent addition to the list of nations with alt-right heads of state. Brazil, which has both the largest economy and largest population in Latin America but was under the rule of a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, may revert back to authoritarianism under the rule of Jair Bolsonaro.  


On October 7, Brazil had the first round of its presidential election and because no candidate won more than 50%, the top two candidates were chosen for the second round of the election which took place on October 28. The two candidates are Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who won 47% of votes in the first round, and Fernando Haddad, the left-leaning candidate who won 28% of votes in the first round. This was a really divisive election and is riddled with corruption scandals, a stabbing, and polarization. The election was so high-stakes that Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally on September 6 and lost 40% of his blood, according to doctors. Recent polls show Bolsonaro winning the second round with 55.1% of votes, while Haddad has only 44.9%. The two candidates are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, with Bolsonaro being called “Brazilian Trump” because of his alt-right policies and his homophobic, racist, and misogynist demeanor. And, just like Trump, he claimed that the election is rigged against him because there were problems with the voting machines. There is no evidence for this and the Organization of American State’s mission overseeing the Brazilian election confirmed the machines were working fine and were untampered with during the first round. And yes, he said he is going to “make Brazil great again.”

Brazil’s political scene has been tumultuous for many years. In 2016, president Dilma Rousseff was forced out of office because of corruption scandals and was replaced by Michel Temer, who left office with an approval rating of just 2%. He was accused of bribery and money-laundering, although he avoided trial last year. Because of this, only 13% of Brazilians believe that their country is democratic (Latinobarómetro). Furthermore, the candidate who was originally running for the liberal Worker’s Party was former President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, but because Lula is also in jail for corruption charges, he was barred from running and Haddad is running in his stead.

But the country’s political situation is not the only preoccupation of Brazilians during this election. Another pressing issue is the country’s high rate of violent crimes. According to the Brazilian Public Safety Forum, there were 60,000 killings in 2017. Violent crime is one of the more consequential issues in the election, and one of the reasons Bolsonaro is doing so well is because he promises to support police forces across the country while protecting gun rights (he once said “If it’s up to me, every citizen will have a gun at home”). But this issue also shows how Bolsonaro’s policies are poorly informed. He wants to increase support for police, but a study by the Brazilian Public Safety Forum shows that the number of deaths related to police intervention went up from 2,212 in 2013 and 5,159 in 2018.

Why this election is really important

Brazil could revert to a military junta under the newly elected Bolsonaro. He has strong connections with the defense minister and the army leadership in Brazil and there are WhatsApp groups of military personnel made to support his campaign. If Haddad won, it is possible the military would not have accepted his victory the way Francisco Franco didn’t accept the victory of left-wing politician Manuel Azaña in Spain in 1936 and so he started a civil war. The army is a popular institution in Brazil. According to Al Jazeera, 43% of Brazilians fully trusted the army in June 2017, 40% trusted it “a little,” and only 15% didn’t trust the army at all. Furthermore, 43% of Brazilians were in favor of the military interfering with government affairs in September 2017. It seems the term“Brazilian Trump” does not completely describe how terrifying Bolsonaro is because he will probably reinstate military dictatorship. He was an army captain, is pro-torture, and has called for his political opponents to be executed. He has condoned the authoritarian regime which was powerful in Brazil from 1964-1985 and his running mate is retired general Hamilton Muraou, who called the democratic 1988 constitution “a mistake” and believes that the constitution needs to be rewritten by “notable” unelected officials. President-elect  Bolsonaro will likely change Brazilian politics at a constitutional level.