Elections in Brazil: The Future of South American Politics

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By Peter Wood – Regular Contributor

In early October elections were held in Brazil seeing 2 major candidates facing off in probably one of the most important elections in the country’s history. On the one side, there is the incumbent president and major right-wing figure Jair Bolsonaro with the “Partido Liberal” known for his heavily nationalist and populist views along with several scandals and controversies. On the other side, there is the ex-president of Brazil from 2003-2010 Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva with the “Partido dos Trabalhadores” also known for several scandals of his own and his very left-wing politics. The two presidential candidates espouse two very different views on how Brazil should be run, and the outcome of this election could influence the entirety of South America’s politics.

To explain why these elections are so important for Brazil much context is needed, starting from an explanation of who exactly Lula Da Silva is and why he is a central figure in Brazilian politics. Despite the several controversies during his presidency, Lula was one of Brazil’s most beloved presidents, leaving office with an approval rating of 83% in December 2010 and being known as Brazil’s most popular president. However, his popularity did not save him from his worst political scandal in which he and his party were accused of accepting bribes from certain companies to further their political campaign. As a consequence of this Lula’s home was raided in 2016 and he was held for questioning by authorities, during this time Brazilian media held a heavy campaign against him. Finally, in 2017 Lula was found guilty and sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison, and in 2018 his sentence was expanded to 12 years, sparking the beginning of the Free Lula movement advocating for his release from prison. The case however progressed in 2019 when leaked conversations between the judge and the lead detective in Lula’s case were revealed in which they conspired to have him convicted to prevent him from winning the 2018 elections. Furthermore, Judge Sergio Moro became minister of Justice and Public security under Bolsonaro although the latter’s involvement in the conspiracy is disputed. In 2019 Lula was finally released and all charges were dropped officially in 2021.

Although this information may not seem relevant at first it becomes increasingly clear just how much the imprisonment of Lula mattered when it came to the 2018 presidential elections which got Bolsonaro elected. After the scandals and imprisonment, Lula’s party was slandered by the Brazilian media rendering opposition to Bolsonaro effectively non-existent and securing his place as president despite some of his increasingly controversial views and the sheer ideological difference compared to Lula. With his newly found freedom, Lula announced his plan to run for president in October 2022 and so he did with opinion polls being heavily slanted in his favour. However, in the first round of elections held at the start of the month, Lula garnered 48.43% of votes compared to Bolsonaro’s 43.2%. Later this month the second round of the elections will be held, and it will reveal the winner in this tight race.

Jair Bolsonaro is probably one of the most controversial figures not only in Brazilian politics but across the world for many he is known as the Brazilian Trump due to his many outrageous claims and attitudes. For instance, his complete denial of the science behind climate change and subsequent withdrawal of the offer of holding the 2019 UN climate change conference. His climate change denial has also led to him opening several natural reserves in the amazon with the purpose of commercial mining, furthermore, the destruction of the amazon rainforest increased by 88% in June 2019, a claim which he later would condemn as being false. His views on climate are not the only controversial aspect of this leader as he is very openly homophobic championing violence against LGBTQ+ individuals and has also openly expressed his anti-feminist views. Although there is much more to say about Bolsonaro one thing that stands out, in particular, is his views on the US-supported military dictatorship Brazil was under from 1964-1985 which he saw as being a ‘glorious’ time in Brazil’s history. Not to mention his repeated praise of dictatorships across South America like Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, etc.

South America cannot be discussed without mentioning the pink tide and its significance in the past 20 years. The Pink Tide was and still is a political wave which characterised south and central American politics bringing in several left-wing governments entirely moving away from the old neoliberal politics which once characterised almost every nation in the area. The first pink tide saw several new figures arise across the continent, particularly in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Brazil. Following that initial wave, however, was a short-lived conservative wave. More recently the pink tide has seen a resurgence with the governments of Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Chile, and Colombia all electing left-wing parties, Colombia being a particularly notable case as the first left-wing anti-American government to ever be elected in the country.  Brazil used to be a key figure in the pink tide thanks to Lula up until 2018. Thus, Lula winning this election could determine the future of the pink tide and Latin-American politics for years to come.

Ultimately the race seems to be a fairly close one despite the many controversies surrounding Bolsonaro and his extremely right-wing policies which put the entirety of the pink tide on halt. However, with the current trends, it does seem like a resurgence in left-wing politics in Latin-American is very quickly taking over and ultimately could be a positive change for Brazil not only in terms of social rights but especially when it comes to the management of the environment. This comes especially at a time when climate change is affecting day-to-day life more and more each year as the whole planet slowly faces the point of no return in climate affairs. If Bolsonaro does manage to beat Lula, the climate could be even more at risk than it already is.

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