Lula is the favorite, fears about Bolsonaro have been confirmed

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (left) was the head of the country from 2003 to 2010. Jair Bolsonaro has been in power since January 2019. The first round of this year’s presidential elections takes place on October 2, and any second round on October 30. Photo by Evaristo Sa, AFP

Your text in December 2018, which you used to introduce the current President Bolsonaro’s inauguration, begins with the statement: “Latin America is slowly entering a turning point that could transform it beyond recognition.” Has Brazil really experienced such a change in the last four years? What has changed the most in her under Bolsonaro?

I would definitely say that fears about Bolsonaro’s autocratic and anti-democratic tendencies have been fully confirmed. During his tenure, he repeatedly attacked the Supreme Court and specific judges, issued illegal and unconstitutional presidential decrees that then had to be overturned with difficulty, and fought with Congress, including some of his own former supporters. He even threatened to repeat the military coup.

But the positive news is that the country’s key democratic institutions have shown great resilience. And at the same time, a large part of the political scene and civil society woke up to a great extent, and the advantage of the federal establishment became apparent, when the governors could, for example, resist destructive attempts.

So Brazilian democracy has survived, even if it is damaged. And the question is whether she would be able to survive the second term of office of such a president.

What about specific policies? Have the fears that Bolsonaro will reverse the progressive achievements of the Lula years and leave irreversible damage to the environment with his policies come true?

Lula’s legacy has indeed been left in ruins after Bolsonaro’s reign. Millions of Brazilians have returned to poverty, hunger is spreading again, and the president has offered no new solutions, although he is trying, especially before the elections, to use the social measures set up by previous administrations.

When it comes to the environment, the destruction of the Amazon forest is particularly noticeable, which Bolsonaro considers primarily a source of raw materials and where, by weakening federal agencies and the Ministry of the Environment, he has essentially given illegal miners and criminal groups a free hand. The result is record deforestation, record violence against indigenous people, the liquidation of international conservation projects, and perhaps even massive fires, to the strength and spread of which Bolsonaro’s actions have contributed.

Has Bolsonaro himself changed somehow? Are his promises for the next term fundamentally different from those before the term just ending?

As for Bolsonaro’s pre-election promises, they are still the same even after four years: he wants to give Brazilians more guns, he intends to accommodate the defenders of the traditional family and ultra-conservative Christians, whom he wants to allow to teach children at home instead of at school, he wants to “prevent communism” or open up the Amazon mining. He is also fighting against corruption again, although after a series of corruption scandals of his ministers or even relatives, it is even less credible than last time.

And changing him personally? I mean as a political actor.

Honestly, I don’t think Bolsonaro has changed in any way. As for his behavior on the political scene, he is still a stray missile incapable of cooperation or anything constructive, as illustrated by the utter failure of his attempt to form his own party or the virtual collapse of the ruling coalition in Congress.

Are the right-wing parties not supporting him this time?

Bolsonaro is not actually running with the support of almost any parties, certainly not the main right-wing parties. Only three parties openly supported him staying in office. One of them is connected to the extremely controversial Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which is behind a series of attacks on religious minorities. The other two are typical government parties, in Brazil they are called Centrão, they are parties without ideology that support every government in exchange for posts and now they have attached themselves to Bolsonaro.

For comparison: Lulu is supported by ten parties, the most important traditional center-right parties supported the candidacy of Senator Simone Tebet.

The evolution of the preferences of this year’s red and blue favorites. The green curve then shows the sum of support for all other candidates. WmC graphics

In this year’s elections, Simone Tebetová is an imaginary third in the background, by far the third most popular candidate behind Lula and Bolsonaro. Can he play a more significant role in the battle of the big two, which seems inevitable?

I don’t think so, just look at the polls. Tebetová is an extremely capable debater, a good senator, she can criticize Bolsonaro like few others and I would say that she has an interesting future ahead of her. But in this year’s polarized situation of two dominant political figures, he simply cannot succeed.

And the other candidates? There are, if I count correctly, eight more in addition to Lula, Bolsonaro and Tebet.

Under normal circumstances, the candidacy of Ciro Gomes, former governor of the state of Ceará and multiple presidential candidate, who is a real matador of the Brazilian democratic left and does not have a corrupt past like Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), would be interesting. But this year, Ciro is important mainly as a person whose candidacy could prevent Lula from winning in the first round, and thus allow Bolsonaro to somehow gain strength during the month between the two rounds. Many people therefore pressured him to resign before the election.

According to polls, Lula should win with a clear hand, perhaps already in the first round. And according to numerous analyses, the main drama will occur only if Bolsonaro does not recognize the result. Is it possible to predict responsibly what would happen in Brazil in such a case?

First of all, I would like to say what is definitely not going to happen: we cannot expect a military coup, as is sometimes speculated about and as Bolsonaro himself sometimes raves about it in public. The army will not stand up for him. She is certainly glad that she gained significantly more influence, but she has no reason to get involved with the current president.

So the scenario will most likely be as follows: Bolsonaro will call the election rigged and try to drive his supporters to demonstrations. Violence is likely to break out in some cities, already some of his fanatical admirers are murdering Lula’s voters. I honestly think it will calm down after a few weeks, I don’t believe in a civil war scenario, but it is possible that Bolsonaro will try to build on the myth of stolen elections, similar to Trump in the United States. And he will be making a comeback as soon as more discontent erupts in society, mainly for economic reasons.

But Bolsonaro has a huge weakness against Trump, namely that he does not have the institution of a strong Republican Party behind him. According to surveys, politicians supported by him have a chance of success in only a few states, for example in the position of governors. And the aforementioned parties that support him today will quickly abandon him after his defeat — he has no control over them and their leaders do not love him at all, they mainly want to share in the power. This will be held in Lula’s hands. They will easily become part of his broad coalition like years ago, if anything comes of it.

How significantly different do you think the newly elected Congress will be from the current one? Let us recall that Brazilians elect the president, governors and legislators at the same time.

I suspect it might have a significantly stronger left, though the next Congress will no doubt be as hopelessly fractured between myriad minor and major parties as usual. Whoever wins will therefore again have to strive for the creation of a very broad coalition, which will still at least partially rely on Centrão.


Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.

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