On Sunday the 28th of October Brazil elected the highly controversial, deeply divisive candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The president-elect won close to 58 million votes, defeating his left-wing Workers’ party counterpart Fernando Haddad by over 10 million votes.
Campaigning on a right wing populist platform, distinguishing himself as the alternative to the horrendously corrupt mainstream politicians in Brazil, Bolsonaro spread a message of intolerance and hate, earning him the label of the ‘Trump of the Tropics’.
This nickname is a little too simple, however. Bolsonaro may have used Trump-esque tactics to shock and outrage, purposely polarising and captivating millions, but he is a veteran of the political scene, and decidedly more extremist in his views than most populist world leaders.
Former army captain Bolsonaro plays up to a strongman image, and has openly pined for the days of Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship (which lasted almost 21 years). He once declared he is “in favour of dictatorship” and has repeatedly promised to enlist generals and officers from the military regime into his government throughout his campaign.
His nostalgic praising of brutal military regimes consolidated his status as the strongman vote, while his misogynistic, homophobic and racist antics over the years have exploited the division and unrest in a nation struggling to escape such outdated views. But Bolsonaro didn’t win on a ticket of being a narrow-minded soldier in the fight against PC culture.
His strongman image was received gleefully by a country that has 60,000 murders a year. While his outsider status and detesting of mainstream politics could never be more popular. Brazil is still reeling from the fallout of Operation Car Wash, a corruption scandal that has irreparably shaken the public’s trust in its elected officials. The arrests that followed decimated the political landscape in Brazil and scorched it of many candidates, even the beloved ex-president Lula was convicted. Many believe he would have easily been re-elected. With a dearth of viable candidates and the political status quo in complete shock, the timing could not have been better for Bolsonaro to arrive on to the political main stage.
Never perfect, Brazil’s young democracy is now under threat. The former army captain Bolsonaro shows disdain for the very concept of democracy, saying “you’ll never change anything in this country [Brazil] through voting.”
Meanwhile his running mate during the campaign, Antonio Mourao, is a retired military general who has backed a military coup if laws are not respected. The risks to human rights are real.
The risks Bolsonaro poses are not just limited to people in Brazil however, nor are they limited to just people. Climate change poses an existential threat to the planet, and the role of ruling Brazil comes with protecting the Amazon. A WWF report on wildlife populations already paints a grim picture of wildlife in the tropics, with populations among species in Central and South America declining by 89% since 1970.
Bolsonaro’s policies will affect the planet and its many habitants in a way no other country’s president can. The fanatically pro-business Bolsonaro wants to use the vast rainforest at his disposal to benefit the market, but any gain to the market will ultimately be the world’s great loss.