Brazil: How a far-right populist became president
A year ago, Jair Bolsonaro was considered “a clown,” said O Estado de São Paulo (Brazil) in an editorial. This week, Brazilians elected the incendiary far-right populist as their president. A 63-year-old former army captain, Bolsonaro spent decades as an ineffective member of the parliament and was known mainly for his big mouth. He told a female lawmaker she was too ugly to rape, called black Brazilians fat and lazy, and said he’d rather see his son die in a car wreck than see him come out as gay. A devout Catholic, he warned that “the state is Christian and the minority will have to change.” Yet the scariest thing about Bolsonaro is his “support for torture and the military dictatorship” that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Just days before this week’s runoff election, he railed that his leftist opponents would be killed or jailed if they didn’t flee the country. Bolsonaro knows nothing of economics, and even many of his supporters concede he is entirely “unprepared to lead.” So why did some 58 million people—more than 55 percent of those who voted—back him? Because he presents himself as “the angry antithesis” of the left-wing Workers’ Party that governed Brazil for 13 years.
Brazilians were desperate for change, said Alejandro Katz in La Nación (Argentina). They blame the Workers’ Party for the cloud of “economic crisis, corruption, and insecurity” enveloping the country. Some 13 million Brazilians are unemployed and violent crime is skyrocketing—there were 175 homicides a day last year. The Workers’ Party couldn’t be trusted to rescue Brazil: Many of its leading members, including now imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, have been found guilty of taking kickbacks from big business. And so voters placed their trust in “a neofascist” who offers simple, cruel solutions to Brazil’s complex problems.
Yet there’s no reason to believe Bolsonaro won’t be a competent president, said O Globo (Brazil) in an editorial. In fact, his election victory “attests to the solidity” of Brazilian institutions. Former President Lula tried to pressure the courts into letting him run in this year’s election despite his criminal conviction, but the “laws were respected” and he was barred. And Bolsonaro managed to prevail despite the “intolerance and aggressiveness” of leftists during the campaign—one of whom stabbed and badly injured him a month before the first-round vote.
Bolsonaro is “not the cause, but the consequence” of a crisis of legitimacy in Brazilian democracy, said Pablo Gentili in Brasil.ElPais.com. Polls have found that fewer than one-third of Brazilians support democracy—no wonder, then, that in 2016, President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party “was dismissed through a parliamentary and legal farce” and that Lula was convicted the next year on flimsy corruption charges. Brazilians don’t trust politicians. They trust their churches and the military, the two institutions Bolsonaro pledged to support the most. With his election, Brazil is “a step closer to fascism.”