The Strategist

Elections in Brazil: Last nail in the system's coffin

09/18/2018 - 15:39

One favorite is in a hospital ward after being stabbed, and the second is in the prison. And millions of Brazilians are so unhappy with their economic situation and the chaos that reigns in the country that they do not want to go to polling stations.

On October 7, Brazil is holding general elections to choose the President, governors and legislators. The election campaign is really unusual even for this country: one of the two favorites in the presidential elections is now lying on a hospital bed, and the second is in the prison.

The right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro is agitating from the hospital, where he was wounded a week ago with a knife wound in his stomach. Last Thursday, he was injured at a rally by a left-wing radical with mental disabilities. Now the former army captain is feeling better, but he will spend at least another week at the hospital. Of course, the injury is limiting Bolsonaro’s capabilities, but his campaign is still going well as his rating has grown dramatically after the assault

Another one, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is campaigning from a prison cell, where he is serving a 12-year prison sentence on charges of corruption. Lula himself will not participate in the elections, because the court banned it. The ex-President, who is still very popular in Brazil, will be replaced by the former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad, representing the left Workers’ Party.

As for the rest, the upcoming presidential elections differ little from those in other countries.

"The political center in Brazil has disintegrated, just like in many other countries," explains Professor Eduardo Mello, professor of political science and international relations of the Brazilian fund Fundação Getulio Vargas. "We have only flanks left."

The methods of the candidates’ campaigning are similar. Both play the victim’s card. Lula, for example, presents himself as a victim of political opponents and the judiciary. The popularity of Bolsonaro, according to results of the FSB Pesquisa poll, rose from 24% before the attack to 30% - after. This allows him to take first place in the first round, but not to score the majority to become the new President in the first attempt. The second round is scheduled for October 21.

Political scientists note the general discontent and frustration of the Brazilians by the establishment. This attitude manifests itself in the fact that instead of studying the programs of candidates, voters base their opinion on the basis of details of their personal lives.

Some year ago, it seemed that 72-year-old Lula would make a triumphant return to the presidential palace. However, numerous opponents of the left-wing politician took advantage of the usual weapons for Latin America, that is, allegations of corruption. The ex-President was found guilty of receiving a fashionable apartment on the shore of the ocean as a bribe and was imprisoned for 12 years. Lula's statements about innocence and intrigues of political enemies and numerous appeals proved useless. On top of that, the special election court refused to register him as a candidate for the presidency, after which he called on his supporters to give their votes to Fernando Haddad.

Now the Workers’ party has a clear task - to get more candidates into the Congress of Brazil (the parliament) in order to force the Supreme Court to release Lula or at least to transfer him to house arrest.

Jair Bolsonaro's problems are no less important and urgent, although of a different kind. After the attack on the pre-election rally, he was urgently operated. Now his life is not in danger, but the wound, of course, has made great changes in his election campaign.

Lula and Bolsonaro are not accidentally on the opposite flanks of the political spectrum of Brazil. This is noticeable in the ways they offer solutions to numerous problems, covering all aspects of life from the growing budget deficit and material inequality to a high level of crime, expressed in more than 60,000 murders a year.

Thus, Jair Bolsonaro proposes to privatize state assets, to relax the laws regulating acquisition and storage of firearms, and to tighten the policy in all directions. Lula, by contrast, advocates generous government subsidies and payments to the poor and raising taxes for the rich.

Circumstances forced Bolsonaro to transfer the campaign to three older sons: Eduardo, Flavio and Carlos. Twitter is now full of pictures with them holding a bloody shirt of his father and urging to go outside.

"Each of us is a Bolsonsaro!" Flavio declared at the pre-election meeting last weekend at Copacabana.
The sons entering the game is, beyond doubt, the successful finding of Jair Bolsonaro, which also added supporters to him. The left, however, cannot compensate for the physical absence of Lula in the election campaign. Perhaps, in some measure, it will be possible for Haddad, whose popularity is gradually growing. Over the past two weeks, according to results of the BTG survey, it has grown from 5 to 8%.

Lula told his supporters on the eve of his arrest in April that he was now "not a man, but an idea," hinting at a successor. In August, he wrote a letter from the cell in which he urged his supporters: "Each of you must become Lula!" Particularly devoted supporters of the Workers Party are giving out rubber masks with his face for free.

In the end, the ex-President chose his protege Fernando Haddad, who does not have such charisma as Lula, and is relatively unknown in the poor north-east of Brazil, where Lula himself now enjoys fantastic popularity.

"Elections are likely to complete breakdown of the system that took place a third of a century ago, at the end of the dictatorship," Mello says. "This is an obvious fact. Now there’s only to see what kind of Brazil will the changes bring."