Like Trump, he is a fierce advocate of conservatism and a master of social media. Is Brazil about to elect a far-right strongman?by Lucinda Elliott / December 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the past 18 months, one Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has been impeached, and her replacement has faced allegations of corruption. Another former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been accused of masterminding the largest bribery scheme in Brazilian history, yet is favourite to reclaim the post in this year’s election. Can anything top that in 2018?
Yes it can, says the man Brazilian media has dubbed the “Tropical Trump.” Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial far-right populist who is something of a mix between Donald Trump and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, is now polling between 13 and 17 per cent—second only to Lula—following a series of controversial political interventions.
The gun-loving lawmaker and former army captain caught the nation’s attention on live television when he dedicated his congressional vote that helped to impeach Rousseff to an army colonel notorious for brutality during Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. It was particularly shocking given that Rousseff had been tortured by the military unit the colonel had headed.
Speaking to me in his office in an upmarket district of São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s son and campaign manager, Eduardo, tried to suggest democracy has been worse for Brazil than dictatorship. “We don’t recognise it as a dictatorship—it was a military regime,” he said. Some 400,000 people went missing or died during those two decades, but Eduardo argues that pales into insignificance compared to the 50,000 people who currently die each year as a direct result of crime.
Brazilians have fought hard to restore democratic rights since that darker chapter and as a society they’re more liberal now. Political opponents are stunned that a far-right candidate like Bolsonaro has become a presidential contender.
With Brazil slowly recovering from an agonising recession, beset by rising levels of violence and a slew of political and business corruption scandals, a man who is seen as an outsider is garnering support, most notably among conservatives and religious groups for his anti-gay, pro-gun policies.
Law enforcement is one of Bolsonaro’s key campaign strategies. He plans to end gun control. Outside the wealthiest state of São Paulo, urban violence has soared, with six Brazilian cities recording a homicide rate last year of 40 deaths per 100,000 citizens. (By contrast, in 2014, the UK’s rate was just under…