As expected, the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party won last Sunday’s Presidential elections in Brazil securing 55.1 per cent of the total votes over his rival Fernando Haddad of the Leftwing Workers Party’s 44.8 per cent. The difference is not substantial that way but the fierce anti-Left nature of the President-elect and his announcement that he will eliminate reds and end the flirtation with leftism in Brazil sends ominous signals for the future of democracy in not only his own country, but also in the entire Latin American region.
Brazil with its 210 million population, is the largest country in Latin America and the fifth most populous country in the world after China, India, USA and Indonesia. It has the eighth largest GDP in the world and the economy is rich with its huge mineral resources, apart from agriculture, manufacture and even its own armament industry. Brazil was ruled by the left-wing Workers Party-led coalition including the Brazilian Communist Party, first by the President Luiz Lula De Silva from 2003-2011 and then Dilma Rousseff from 2011 to August 2016 till she was removed from power through an unconstitutional impeachment motion.
The early period of Lula rule was marked by big improvement in the living standard of the poor people as the Lula government spent huge funds from its burgeoning revenues due to high oil price. There was 30 per cent rise in the number of the people who came out of the poverty level. The situation deteriorated in the last phase of the Workers Party rule as the oil revenues dwindled and the economy showed strains. The opposition aided by the big business and the multinational US companies took full advantage of this and conspired to bring down the Dilma government. The ruling coalition partners were bribed and finally, the rightists staged a coup by getting the impeachment motion against Dilma passed. Michel Temer, against whom many corruption charges are pending, was made the president and under him the presidential elections were held leading to the win of the far right candidate.
Lula was still the most popular political figure in Brazilian electoral politics because of the very real benefits his economic and social policies had brought, increasing the rights of women, Afro- and indigenous Brazilians, LGBTQ people, workers, and the poor. So the Workers’ Party and allies wanted to run him for president once more. But in April, Lula was jailed under dubious charges of corruption and money laundering. All efforts to get him released so he could run for president once more failed right before the first round of the presidential elections on October 7.
To replace Lula as their presidential candidate, the Workers’ Party chose former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, with former legislator Manuela d’Avila of the Communist Party of Brazil as his vice presidential running mate. Polls had predicted that Bolsonaro would do well in the first round, but when the votes were tallied, he had done much better than expected: With 46.03 percent of the vote, he came close to winning the presidency without the need for a runoff. Haddad came in a distant second, with 29.28 percent of the vote. The rest of the vote was split among eleven other candidates.
So with just three weeks to go to the runoff, the Haddad campaign had to win over enough votes from left, centrist, and even conservative candidates to overcome Bolsonaro’s big head start. (Voting in Brazil is legally obligatory for people between 18 and 70 years of age.) Many of the candidates eliminated in the runoff were less than helpful, either refusing to endorse Haddad or working for Bolsonaro.
Senior journalists point out that Bolsonaro’s ferocious “tough on crime” line may have appealed to Brazilians worried about the very real erosion of personal security in the country, and the corruption issue also, no doubt, had an impact. In addition, Bolsonaro got massive support from big business interests, from right-wing Evangelical Christian leaders and churches, and from sections of the military who, as he does, hanker after the days of the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, when military officers could steal, torture, and kill with impunity.
According to Bolsonaro, the only problem with repression under the dictatorship was that it did not kill enough people. He has promised to open up territory reserved for indigenous Brazilians—and for descendants living in escaped slave colonies, as well as nature reserves—to ruthless economic exploitation by agribusiness and mining interests. He has announced that Brazil will be a Christian country, and he will rule with the Bible alongside the constitution.
He has characterised Afro-Brazilians as fat and lazy and denounced the past government’s help to African countries, which he has described more or less in the same terms that President Trump has done. He has said he will pull Brazil out of the United Nations, which he considers to be a “den of communists,” and also out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
He has called for the jailing of members of the Landless People’s Movement, said he will get rid of the “reds,” joked about raping people, and said he would rather his son die than be gay. He will align Brazil with the United States and Israel. These are attractive positions from the point of view of important sectors of the Brazilian and international ruling class. Perhaps for that reason, employers pressured and threatened their employees to vote for Bolsonaro.
An examination of the demographics and economics of the vote shows that Haddad’s support came from the poorest communities in Brazil, and Bolsonaro’s from the wealthiest areas. The geographical pattern of the vote also was revealing for its racial dimension: Haddad won the great majority of the states (of the 27 in Brazil) entirely in the Northeast region. This region is characterised by a lower percentage of Brazilians classified as “white,” i.e., of European origin, than other areas of Brazil where Bolsonaro won. For example in the Northeastern state of Maranhão, which has a Communist governor (Flávio Dino) and where whites are only 25.5 percent of the population, Haddad won. But in the state of Paraná, in the far south, whites are 73 percent, and Bolsonaro swept the state. The state of Pará, in the Northeast, is only 23 percent white, and went to Haddad, while Santa Catarina in the south, which is 87 percent white, went to Bolsonaro.
This suggests that lower income, working-class, and minority Brazilians still constitute the core of a fight-back against whatever policies Bolsonaro will now impose. The Communist Party of Brazil pointed out in a post-election statement that the election results have profound implications for the whole of Latin America, and called for the unity of all progressive and democratic forces to push back against the growing fascist threat.
The Brazilian Left parties have hard battles ahead in the coming days. They have still 44 percent of the population. This has to be expanded to include others for giving a real fight back to the hardcore rightwing President Bolsonaro. (IPA)