Bolsonaro Election in Brazil
Bolsonaro Election in Brazil

The following report is from a Foreign Policy newsletter about the Brazilian election:

Tens of thousands of Brazilians rallied to support President Jair Bolsonaro during Brazil’s bicentennial celebrations on Wednesday, as the country’s presidential race heats up and Bolsonaro scrambles to galvanize support.

Military planes flew above cities and tanks cruised through streets to mark the 200th anniversary of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. But experts say Bolsonaro blurred the lines between national celebrations and his campaign events, taking advantage of the day to rally his devoted base and push his far-right nationalist platform.

He “reinforc[ed] his narratives that the polls are fake; the news [is] fake; the electronic voting machines can’t be trusted—and therefore, his base needs to stay mobilized,” said Catherine Osborn, a Brazil-based journalist and the writer of FP’s Latin America Brief newsletter.

As Brazil’s October elections loom, the two frontrunners are Bolsonaro and former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who left office in 2010 with a record 87 percent approval rating. Bolsonaro has accused his predecessor of extreme corruption, despite being mired in his own graft scandals, while Lula has in turn attacked him for “destroying” the country. (Lula was previously jailed over corruption convictions, although they were later annulled over procedural issues, clearing the way for his candidacy now.)

But it is Lula who holds a clear lead in polls, as Bolsonaro’s botched pandemic response, assault on indigenous and LGBTQ rights, and sexist remarks against women—among whom he is very unpopular—weigh against him. While Bolsonaro deepened his ties with the military, gun ownership also soared during his tenure.

“Bolsonaro is lagging behind Lula because voters dislike him more than they dislike Lula,” said Osborn. “It’s actually going to be an election between who has more rejection, instead of who has more positive opinions of them.”

For many Brazilians, Lula also represents a period of economic promise and well-being—one the public is desperate to return to. “There’s a nostalgia for the past,” said James Green, a professor of Brazilian history at Brown University. “The time when Lula was in power between 2003 and 2010 were years of tremendous prosperity. The economy was booming. Things were going well.”

As Bolsonaro fell behind in the polls, he made unfounded claims that Brazil’s voting systems were vulnerable to fraud, in what experts fear is an effort to prepare to contest election results and even attempt to launch a coup. These efforts, as well as his threatening rhetoric and misinformation, will likely profoundly shape Brazilian society.

“Even if there is not a coup d’etat in the strict sense of the word, Bolsonaro is sowing the ingredients of a risky, explosive political situation among civilians for a long time,” said Osborn. “That doesn’t go away very easily.”