Jair Bolsonaro Wins Highly Contentious Brazil Presidential Election


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On Sunday, October 28, Brazil decisively elected 63-year-old far-right Congressman Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency in a highly contentious, deeply polarizing, and at times violent, presidential election. The former military officer and right-wing firebrand won the election by a wide margin, holding a 10-point, 10.7 million vote lead over his opponent, Fernando Haddad.


Bolsonaro’s election marks a significant shift in Brazilian politics, with voters having abandoned the left-leaning Worker’s Party (PT) that has dominated Brazilian elections for the past two decades. Bolsonaro, running on the Social Liberal Party (PSL) platform, tapped into widespread Brazilian disillusionment with the government and appealed to large swaths of the electorate by promising to “break the system” and restore order to Latin America’s largest democracy, which has suffered from a prolonged recession, rising crime rates, political violence, and a massive corruption scandal. These factors have all contributed to a deeply unpopular incumbent president, Michel Temer, with a mere 5% approval rating reported as recently as last March.


Bolsonaro and Haddad faced off in Sunday’s election following the first round of voting in early October in which Bolsonaro narrowly missed winning the presidency outright, falling 4 points short of the 50% of the vote needed to win. Haddad, who received only 29% of the vote in the first round of voting, was not favored to win Sunday’s election by pollsters and experts.


Brazil’s election of Bolsonaro echoes a similar rightward shift in the politics of many of the world’s major democracies, like that of the election of President Donald Trump here in the U.S., Viktor Orban in Poland, and major policy decisions such as Brexit in the U.K. In Brazil, however, which has largely elected leftist or left-leaning governments in the past two decades, this shift has not come without resistance. In September, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally in an assassination attempt that saw him lose more than 40% of his blood–a chilling example of the widespread political violence that has plagued Brazil in recent years.


Bolsonaro, despite carrying the election by a wide margin, has been criticized by his opponents for his long history of charged comments, such as telling a congresswoman that she was “not worthy” of being raped by him, and that he would prefer his son “die in an accident” than have a family member be homosexual, leading many Brazilians, particularly women, to believe that he is a misogynistic bigot whose divisive and offensive rhetoric could harm the country. Others, however, see Bolsonaro as the antidote to a corrupt and incompetent government and someone who can bring real change. More likely, however, most Brazilian voters see Bolsonaro as someone who will keep the Worker’s Party (PT) out of power, the same party that has historically–for the past 13 years–dominated presidential elections, but as of late been entangled in massive corruption scandals.


Ultimately, it seems that Brazilian voters were eager for a chance to shake up the status quo and deliver a shock to the establishment; Bolsonaro, in the eyes of some 55 million voters, was the perfect man to do just that.