Jair Bolsanaro, a outspoken and controversial conservative Brazilian Federal Deputy, has continued his rise in recent weeks towards the top of the polls for the South American country’s 2018 presidential election.
Although similar right-wing populist figures have emerged in parts of Europe and Asia over the last years, Latin America has been generally resistant to this trend, due to resentment among much of the populace towards the legacy of the right-wing strongmen such as Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet that dominated the continent during the Cold War era.
However, Bolsanaro, a former military officer, has proudly embraced this legacy, hailing Brazil’s past junta rule, and declaring on the floor of the country’s Chamber of Deputies that Pinochet should have “killed more people” in his purges of Chilean communists during the 1970s. He has also criticized democracy, and has suggested that if elected President, he would consider abolishing the Brazilian Congress.
Bolsanaro has consistently used satirical, provocative tactics to generate a frenzy of media attention, including engaging in physical altercations with left-wing legislators, jokingly telling a feminist politician that he would not rape her due to her ugly appearance, and informing reporters that while he would beat his son if he found out his son was gay, he did not worry about his son dating a black girl “because his children were very well educated”. Furthermore, he has embraced social media, frequently posting right-wing memes on Twitter.
Bolsanaro espouses a generally conservative, pro-life, and pro-privatization platform, but embraces some protectionist stances on foreign investment, fearing the negative impact of Chinese influence in his country. In addition, he opposes accepting refugees into Brazil, describing them as the “scum of the world”.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to him being portrayed as the “Donald Trump of Brazil”. Bolsanaro has embraced the comparison, and has cited Trump’s upset victory as proof that he too can prevail against his nation’s political establishment.
Nevertheless, former President Lula, from the communist-backed Workers’ Party, who is planning on mounting another presidential run in 2018, remains popular among poorer Brazilians, and has maintained a strong lead in the polls over all his potential rivals, including Bolsanaro. However, a lower court has already convicted Lula of corruption, and the case is currently pending appeal. If a higher court affirms this decision, as is likely, Lula will be unable to stand for election.
Much like France, Brazil has a two round presidential election, where the top two candidates in the first round participate in a runoff. In the latest polls that exclude Lula, Bolsanaro has a significant lead in the first round, and would beat virtually all of his potential center-left rivals in theoretical second round matchups. While there is still close to a year until the election, it is undeniable that Bolsanaro is off to a strong start.