What Is Happening This Week:
Brazil is bracing for the second-round of its presidential elections on Sunday, which pit far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro (colorfully nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics”) against center-left Fernando Haddad, the torchbearer for one of Brazil’s most successful establishment parties, the Workers’ Party.
Bolsonaro, a man who openly derides minorities and pines for the days when Brazil was a military dictatorship, nearly won the presidency outright earlier this month after securing 46 percent of the vote in a crowded field (he needed 50 percent-plus-one to avoid the runoff); he’s highly likely to complete the political victory this weekend.
Why It Matters:
Aside from the fact that Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy, a Bolsonaro victory would matter because Brazil is a posterchild for the growing fury and anger directed at establishment political classes globally. Brazil has long had issues with corruption at the highest levels of government, but matters reached a fever-pitch in recent years with the epic Lava Jato corruption scandal—centered on a Brazilian construction giant bribing public officials in exchange for lucrative government contracts—that has ensnared scores of sitting politicians and led to the impeachment (albeit indirectly) of previous Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.
Virtually no establishment political party in Brazil emerged unscathed, opening the door for a relatively-unknown congressmen from Rio with a history of cringe-inducing remarks against LGBTQ people and women to position himself as a crusading, politically-incorrect outsider that would shake up Brazilian politics.
But he also walked the anti-establishment walk, forgoing any political support from mainstream parties and funding his campaign entirely through personal donations (corporate donations are prohibited in Brazil). Bolsonaro is further propelled by the fact that folks in Latin America more broadly, and in Brazil specifically, have come to conflate poor public services with corruption; given that Brazil has plenty of both, this election is Bolsonaro’s to lose.
What Happens Next:
Bolsonaro’s victory is all but assured, but his party still has nowhere near the numbers it needs in Brazil’s fractured Congress to move legislation forward by itself. That means compromise with some of the 30 other parties in Congress will be needed over the long term, so Brazil is heading for more politics-than-usual than Bolsonaro would like to admit. Over the short-term, expect markets to rally a little with the election of a pro-business candidate, and then for political realities to set in.
The Key Number That Explains It:
46. That’s the percentage of congressional seats contested on Oct. 7 that were won by incumbents. That’s the lowest congressional reelection rate since 1998. Brazilians want political change, and not just at the top. That makes sense given that 95 percent of Brazilians think the country is heading down the wrong path.
The Key Quote That Sums It All Up:
“I’m not saying Bolsonaro is a good thing. He’s not my second choice, even my third choice, but he’s the least worst option we now have.” An asset manager in São Paulo describing his grudging support for Bolsonaro. And think—this quote was given ahead of the first-round of elections, when there were literally 13 candidates on the ballot.
The One Major Misconception About It
That electing Bolsonaro means that Brazil is turning right-wing. It’s not; it just so happens that the candidate who best espouses the current anti-corruption/anti-establishment furor of today’s Brazil is on the right.
If you look at the seats in Congress Bolsonaro’s party will control (52 out of 513 in Brazil’s lower house, and 4 of 81 seats in the upper house), it’s hard to argue that Brazil’s electorate is undergoing a dramatic and sustained political shift to the right.
The One Thing You Should Read About It:
This rundown of the most inflammatory statements Bolsonaro has made in the recent pass. That Brazilians will elect a person with such an objectively-offensive history give a sense of the political desperation they are feeling in 2018.
The One Thing to Say About It:
Brazil is not a country whose politics are undergoing a fundamental shift. But Bolsonaro shows that in today’s political environment, the messenger is often a heck of a lot more important than the message.
The One Thing to Avoid Saying About It:
Before the first round, 44 percent of Brazilians said they’d never vote for Bolsonaro. Which means 44 percent of Brazilians are about to get a president they absolutely despise. Remind you of anywhere?