4 things to know about Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new far-right president
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilâs next president, summed up his far-right campaign with the slogan âBrazil before everything, and God above all.â
Think of it as Brazilâs version of âAmerica First.â
That campaign carried Bolsonaro to a decisive victory in the countryâs presidential runoff on Sunday. He won 55 percent of the vote, easily defeating leftist candidate Fernando Haddad.
Bolsonaro appealed to Brazilians by promising to âbreak the systemâ and depart from the status quo after a tumultuous few years. Brazil suffered from a deep recession starting in 2016. That economic crisis was accompanied by political turmoil, as a massive corruption scandal unspooled in the country at the highest levels of government and business, leaving few high-profile leaders unscathed.
Against this backdrop, a rise in violent crime has left some voters yearning for order and security, which Bolsonaro â" an ex-military officer â" promised to deliver.
But his embrace of âlaw and orderâ carries alarming undertones, as he has expressed a fondness for the countryâs past military dictatorship. His anti-democratic views are just one element of his disturbing rhetoric, though; the president-elect also freely spews misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and racist statements.
The presidential frontrunner has been compared to US President Donald Trump; both men share a rep utation for incendiary rhetoric, have tried to build campaigns on promises to end corruption and crack down on crime and chaos, and know their way around social media.
Indeed, Trump tweeted Monday that heâd called to congratulate Bolsonaro on his victory. Bolsonaro also tweeted about their conversation, saying the US president had congratulated him on his âhistoric election.â
Bolsonaroâs rise has roiled Brazilian politics â" and the election of this polarizing figure could set the Latin American country on a new, unpredictable path.
Hereâs what you need to know about the Brazilian candidate sometimes called the âTrump of the Tropics.â
1) Heâs casting himself as the political outsider
Bolsonaro isnât exactly a political outsider, though heâs certainly tried to paint himself as one. The 63-year-old is a former military officer and has served seven terms in Brazilâs federal congress. As Mike LaSusa wrote for Vox, the cand idate has enjoyed strong ties to the military and rose to prominence as âa no-holds-barred conservative.â
Heâs been a member of many different parties over the years, but Bolsonaro most recently joined the Social Liberal Party (PSL), and from there mounted his presidential campaign. His affiliation with the formerly marginal party has turned it into a political force thatâs made tremendous gains in Brazilâs legislature.
Bolsonaro relied heavily on social media to promote his candidacy and get his message out. The candidate often seemed to be taking a page out of Trumpâs playbook, whether it was bragging about his votes, blaming the leftist Workersâ Party for Brazilâs failures, or promising to ârescue Brazil.â
He also faced intense opposition and protests, particularly from women. Opponents have used the slogan #EleNÃ£o, or âNot Him.â In September, a man who claimed he was on a âmission from Godâstabbed the candidate in the abdomen at a campaign rally.
Bolsonaro was seriously injured â" but it helped raise his profile and gave him something of a âmartyrâ status. It may have also cowed his opponents, who didnât want to be seen blasting a man whoâd just survived a knife attack.
âI just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians,â said FlÃ¡vio Bolsonaro, Jairâs Bolsonaroâs son, after the attack. âYou just elected him president.â
2) He has a history of embracing offensive views
Oh, where to begin. Bolsonaro has a deep record of making offensive comments about women and the LGBTQ community and racist statements about Brazilâs black or mixed-race community.
Heâs held these views for years, but his newfound popularity and presidential platform have amplified their reach. Guilherme CasarÃµes, a comparative politics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo, told the Washington Post that âfive years ago, he was just another congressman with anti-gay views. Now Bolsonaro, like Trump, has become a larger-than-life figure.â
The candidate has even faced charges for his discriminatory comments. Hereâs a sampling of some of the things heâs said:
- He disparaged indigenous and Quilombolas communities, who are descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves, implying, among other things, that they were lazy. âI think they donât even manage to procreate anymore,â the candidate said.
- He said that if he had a gay son, he would be unable to love him and would âprefer that he die in an accident.â
- He said a fellow lawmaker in congress wasnât attractive enough to be raped because she was ugly. âSheâs not my type. I would never rape her. Iâm not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldnât rape her because she doesnât deserve it,â Bolsonaro said in 2014.
- Bolsonaro responded to a questi on in 2011 about what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman by saying, âI donât run that risk because my sons were very well educated.â
Some of his supporters seemed to welcome his rhetoric, while others wanted him to tone it down for fear that he would alienate voters. Bolsonaroâs opponents have protested against his offensive language, and have even compared him to Hitler.
In response, the president-elect tried to play off some of his commentary as jokes taken out of context, and during the runoff campaign, he tried to use more inclusive language by saying heâs trying to make Brazil safer and better for all its people â" though his past stances seem to contradict that pretty clearly.
3) He has a troublesome affinity for Brazilâs military dictatorship
Some of Bolsonaroâs most controversial statements involve his laudatory remarks about Brazilâs brutal military dictatorship.The country was under military rule fro m the 1960s until the mid-1980s. In 2015, Bolsonaro went so far as to call it âglorious.â
In 2016, Bolsonaro voted to impeach then-President Dilma Rousseff â" indicating that he did so in honor of the deceased chief of secret police in SÃ£o Paulo, who oversaw the torture of hundreds under military rule. It was a disturbing act, as Rousseff herself had been imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorship.
For his presidential run, Bolsonaro chose as his running mate a retired military general who has also made disconcerting statements about military power, including that the return of military rule in Brazil could be justified under some circumstances.
Bolsonaro did not go that far in his presidential campaign â" and he vowed that his government would be âconstitutional and democraticâ in his victory speech.
But his nostalgia for the days of military rule has alarmed many Brazilians. There are others, however, who sympathize with his position in th e wake of increased crime and insecurity in the country.
4) Heâs a hardliner whoâs constructed an anti-corruption and anti-crime platform
One of the main reasons so many Brazilian voters supported Bolsonaro is his promise to fix the countryâs ills â" high rates of violent crime, a faltering economy, and endemic corruption.
A huge and sprawling corruption scandal has engulfed Brazilian politics in recent years, and that sense of dysfunction has made the population dissatisfied and disillusioned with its leaders.
Michel Temer, the outgoing president, is affiliated with a center-right party, and heâs abysmally unpopular. He took over after Rousseff, of the Workersâ Party, was impeached and removed from office in 2016 because of her connections with the corruption scandal. Rousseff was not implicated directly, but her party was in power, and she faced other pressures, such as the deepening recession.
Rousseffâs predecessor, Luiz InÃ¡ci o âLulaâ da Silva, served as president from 2003 to 2011 and remains extremely popular in Brazil, as his tenure was associated with economic growth and greater equality. Lula is so popular, in fact, that he was the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race and was on his way to becoming president again â" except he was barred from running because heâs serving a 12-year prison sentence after also being caught up in the corruption scandal. (Lula and his supporters have called his conviction dubious.)
With Lula out, Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of Sao Paulo, stepped in. Haddad tried to tie himself tightly to Lulaâs legacy, and he made improving the economy central to his campaign. But he failed to drum up enough popular support to beat Bolsonaro, who successfully capitalized on Braziliansâ discontent with their government and its perceived inability to address the countryâs economic and political ills.
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