Brazil elected a new President yesterday. His name is Jair Bolsonaro. He won easily by winning 55% of the votes. While the election was not close, the rhetoric during the campaign seemed to mimic that of our most recent American Presidential election.
Following in our footsteps, Brazil held one of its most divisive elections ever that involved the leading candidate getting stabbed during a rally. Jair Bolsonaro has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” for his derogatory comments about minorities. Similar to Trump, he was recently endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Critics fear that his election will lead to an erosion of personal freedoms and physical safety of others, especially minorities.
While proponents may acknowledge his apparent lack of political correctness, Jair Bolsonaro represents for them much needed change. One of the single most important items on his resume is that he has never been involved in any political scandal, or any type of scandal for that matter, during his 17 years serving as a congressman. Unfortunately, that seems increasingly rare for a Brazilian in politics these days and it is not something his primary rivals could claim. As a comparison, the mayor of the city where I lived in Brazil, who went on to become a Congressman, had at least 7 state and federal investigations related to corruption. That is even more impressive when you consider the city he represented had only been incorporated for about ten years at that time. This makes Bolsonaro the face of the anti-establishment.
While many were cognizant of the existence of corruption in Brazil, nobody imagined it to have spread as far and wide as it did. Brazilians began to realize that their country, run by the Workers Party, was essentially being run by an organized crime unit that bribed and bought its way to get what it wanted. A “pay to play” system was developed, forcing private companies to make bribes to government officials in exchange for lucrative government contracts.
The Worker’s Party has held power since 2002. In the last 16 years, Brazil has been on a roller coaster ride. The first half of which showed promise. Brazil experienced strong economic growth and a rising middle class sector for the first time in many years. The last eight years has been the opposite. The “Car Wash” scandal, which directly implicated President Lula, leading to his eventual sentence to prison, has caused tremendous gridlock in Congress.
Most surprisingly, despite being mired in scandal, the Workers party has proven extremely resilient. Traditionally, when scandal has been uncovered, most organizations, be it John Edwards or Bernie Madoff, immediately retreat to the shadows…often never to be heard from again. It has been the exact opposite with the Workers Party leaders, which is why they are so dangerous. When finally caught with their hand in the cookie jar, their attitude was a brazen, “So what?” Their entire demeanor has been that of someone so powerful, that they are above the law.
Bolsonaro’s election to President of Brazil, had as much to do about his rival as it did about him. To understand it, you must begin with the former President of Brazil, universally known as Lula. Despite serving a twelve-year prison sentence, Lula, has proven quite adept at managing his party from behind bars. Referred to as the Kingmaker, he has chosen Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo to replace him. Despite all of the most recent revelations regarding Haddad’s party, they have still managed to come in second place with 45% of the votes. I find this remarkable. The party’s leader is in jail. His successor is mired in corruption scandals. Congress is gridlocked because of political upheaval and unemployment has jumped. And 45% of the country still voted for them? That is alarming considering their party is responsible for one of the largest corruption scandals in the history of the world.
How is that possible? Because the Workers Party base is primarily represented by the lower class, most of whom are dependent upon welfare. As long as they get their welfare, they will continue to vote for the party that gave it to them. The lower class in Brazil wields tremendous political power, mostly due to the fact that they are so large. The Worker’s party learned early on that they could manipulate the lower class vote by “buying them” through legal welfare programs. The final days leading up to the election, Haddad announced that he would increase welfare programs by 20% in a last ditch effort to get the undecided votes needed to win. This time it was not enough.
While Jair Bolsonaro may appear to have little empathy for minorities, that same audacity seems to apply to criminals and those that abuse their power. As a former army captain, Bolsonaro has stated that he would be willing to use their armed forces to combat violence. This “enough is enough” approach has resonated with voters as they want action. They see that the cancer of corruption has run deep and most Brazilians believe it will take a radical, unconventional type of President to remove it.