In Post-Election Brazil, Hate Overshadows Reason
“Us against them” narratives are led to the election of Jair Bolsonaro
Opinions / November 8, 2018
On Oct. 28, Jair Messias Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party was elected president of Brazil with 55 per cent of valid votes. His opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party, left the race with only 44 per cent of valid votes. That’s a difference of about 10 million votes, though around 42 million people choose to give up their vote by either not going to the polls or by voiding their ballot.
Similar to the 2016 race in the United States, this year’s election in Brazil was fueled by fake news and the demonization of opposing candidates. Supporters of both Bolsonaro and Haddad made the political climate on social media a hostile environment, spouting hate-driven moralistic speeches about both candidates. Bolsonaro, who openly spent his campaign publicly urging the “extermination” and “exile” of his opposition, became a victim of the same hate he grew infamous for inciting. On Sept. 6, he was stabbed during a campaign rally by a person linked to his opposition—an assassination attempt that almost cost him his life. other candidate could lead to disastrous consequences.
All the hate driven towards Haddad, on the other hand, came from the public rejection of the Workers’ Party. This came partly due to the economic recession that the country experienced during their time in power, and partly due to corruption scandals involving import leaders of the party such as Lula da Silva. Even with strong opposition movements to Bolsonaro, such as the #Elenao (“Not him”) protests on Sept. 29, Haddad could not detach his image from the Workers Party stigma, which cost him his victory.
To a large portion of the Brazilian population, the vote for Bolsonaro was an anti-establishment vote, even though Bolsonaro himself has made a living in politics since 1991. As an international student from Brazil, I have close friends who voted for him due to that belief. However, the biggest drive behind Bolsonaro’s popularity was his tough stance on crime, much like the one taken by Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
In a country where almost 60,000 people were murdered last year, according to data retrieved from the newspaper Globo, it’s understandable how Bolsonaro came to power, however dangerous history has proven his sort of populist speech to be. Authoritarian regimes have always gained force by feeding off of chaos, from the Italian fascism of Mussolini to the Chilean regime of Pinochet.
On a personal note, I find the idea of a person like Bolsonaro being Brazil’s president frightening. I have always voted and will continue to vote against any politician that endorses torture, execution, or dictatorships regardless of their ideological position or party membership.
When, in 2014, I took part in protests to the actions of Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party, I was hit by gas bombs. But I was not tortured, exiled, or killed, as were members of the opposition during the period of Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985—a period which Bolsonaro has exalted in recent years.
As for the Brazilian left, they too are to blame for Bolsonaro’s election. Haddad’s campaign media was mostly spent likening Bolsonaro to Hitler and otherwise labelling him a fascist, creating even more fear and division, as if the political environment there wasn’t already saturated by both. This only helped Bolsonaro consolidate his own right-wing narrative of being the antithesis of the left.
I myself am very disappointed with the Workers Party leaders for failing to articulate a response to the rise of Bolsonaro, by insisting on Haddad’s candidacy—even though they were aware that he was being rejected in earlier polls—just to maintain their historical position as hegemonic leaders of the Brazilian left. If space had been given to center-left candidates such as Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) or Marina Silva (Rede), whose polls proved that they had a better chance of beating Bolsonaro in the second round, the election outcomes could have turned out differently.
As for whether Bolsonaro is going to be a new version of Augusto Pinochet in South America, it is still too early to say. I have to admit that the past few weeks in Brazil look like something out of a George Orwell novel. However, the most important task at hand for Brazilian people now is to find a way to live with and respect each other despite the outcome of the election. It is a healthy, democratic right to oppose an elected government. We all can do that without manifesting prejudice against those who think differently