FP’s Guide to the Bolsonaro Presidency
Eleven things to read after the vote.
On Oct. 28, Brazil’s dramatic campaign season came to an equally dramatic end: Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist, won the runoff election to become the country’s next president. Although polling over the summer had indicated that more than half of Brazilians would never vote for him, in the end, 55 percent of voters did. Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party also made huge gains. In the lower house of the National Congress, it went from eight representative to 52 (out of 513 total). And in the upper house, where the party has never held a seat, it won four. Bolsonaro will interpret this showing as a strong mandate to pursue his campaign promises, which include giving the military more say in government, ending restrictions on gun ownership, rolling back environmental protections, reining in the media, and draining the swamp in Brasília.
Wondering what all this means for Brazil’s democracy? We’ve collected Foreign Policy’s best articles on Bolsonaro’s victory and where he’ll go from here.
As a quick refresher, Bolsonaro’s lightning-speed rise from obscure far-right congressman to president was the result of many factors. His inflammatory rhetoric—he spoke of executing his political foes, called a congresswoman unworthy of rape, and accused the left of persecuting his party and supporters—earned him comparisons to the Nazis but whipped up his base. His hard line on crime and corruption, his scaremongering about fake news, and his appeals to traditional religious values drew in voters who would normally have opted for a more centrist candidate. Meanwhile, his economic program, which includes privatization, pension reform, and lowering taxes, helped win him supporters from the business world. And his ties to the military gave credibility to his promises to restore law and order, which were popular with a public fed up with high levels of violence.
Bolsonaro won’t take office until Jan. 1. But his priorities for his administration are already clear. Michael Albertus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, expects the new president to pack his cabinet with former military officials and give the armed forces a greater say in domestic policing. The military, which has long viewed the Amazon as both a security risk (it makes Brazil’s northwestern border nearly impossible to monitor) and a resource to be exploited, will also want a hand in economic development. Finally, in alliance with the pro-gun caucus in Brazil’s Congress, the armed services will work to expand gun rights and to boost international arms sales.
As worrying as the rise of the military may seem for Brazilian politics, the Brazilian professor Eduardo Mello counters, it isn’t the armed forces that are the problem. Instead, it is all of the factors that pushed Brazilians away from traditional political parties to begin with. In the coming years, he argues, democracy will thus depend on whether civilians can exploit rifts between Bolsonaro and his base while regaining voter trust.
Beyond his appreciation for the military, Bolsonaro has also been very clear about his intentions when it comes to the environment. Throughout the campaign season, he promised to dismantle existing environmental agencies and cancel current regulations, which he claims are bad for development. “On their own, Bolsonaro’s proposals might not have amounted to much,” argues Kathryn Hochstetler, a professor at the London School of Economics, since they’ll still have to go through Congress, which his party doesn’t control outright. But a shift to the right in some regional elections “means that he’ll likely get his way: Whatever happens at the top of government, Bolsonaro’s agenda will be advanced at the state level.” In turn, one of Brazil’s proudest achievements—reducing deforestation—may soon be undone.