An­other vic­tory for po­lit­i­cal de­range­ment

What Brazil­ians voted against is ob­vi­ous, but what they voted for is un­clear

Financial Mail - - BETWEEN THE CHAINS - Tim Co­hen co­hent@busi­ Jair Bol­sonaro

Who is Jair Bol­sonaro, Brazil’s pres­i­dent-elect? It’s a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the un­hinged na­ture of modern pol­i­tics that not only does Bol­sonaro seem to defy easy def­i­ni­tion, he also de­fies easy anal­ogy. He’s been de­scribed by op­po­nents and the in­ter­na­tional me­dia as a racist, a misog­y­nist, a ho­mo­phobe, a fas­cist, an ad­vo­cate of tor­ture and an aspir­ing dic­ta­tor.

And be­cause this is the era of po­lit­i­cal de­range­ment, all that made him more pop­u­lar, not less. The most com­mon anal­ogy is that he is Brazil’s an­swer to Don­ald Trump, but the com­par­i­son is some­what off. Bol­sonaro, 63, spent 17 years in the Brazil­ian army, and is proud of it. Trump, who grad­u­ated in the Viet­nam era, avoided the draft five times.

Army ex­pe­ri­ence is po­lit­i­cally charged in Brazil, which was run by a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship from 1964 to 1985. “I know what hi­er­ar­chy and dis­ci­pline mean. With­out those, we will never have or­der and progress,” Bol­sonaro said last year. His views about the dic­ta­tor­ship have earned him the ep­i­thet “strong­man” from some. For years, he was a fringe fig­ure who made oc­ca­sional head­lines with char­ac­ter­is­tic out­bursts. He once told a leftist con­gress­woman she did not “de­serve” to be raped be­cause she was too ugly, and was suc­cess­fully charged for hav­ing done so.

Brazil’s frac­tured pol­i­tics

(no party got more than 11% of the vote and nine got more than

5%), a mas­sive cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing the usu­ally pow­er­ful left­wing Work­ers’ Party, and a dis­as­trous econ­omy over the past three years set the scene for a dra­matic mix-up in Sun­day’s vot­ing.

What Brazil­ians voted against is con­se­quently ob­vi­ous, but what they voted for is un­clear. Though Bol­sonaro’s think­ing on eco­nomics is no­tion­ally free mar­ket, he once said for­mer pres­i­dent Fer­nando Hen­rique Car­doso should face a fir­ing squad for privatising state com­pa­nies. These views have changed some­what, par­tic­u­larly be­cause state-owned petrol com­pany Petro­bras was cen­tral to Op­er­a­tion Car Wash, the scan­dal that im­pli­cated one-third of the coun­try’s politi­cians.

Where Bol­sonaro does over­lap with other im­pe­ri­ous world lead­ers like Trump is in his “my coun­try first” pa­tri­o­tism. That, among other things, will make for be­wil­der­ing meet­ings of the Brics group be­cause four of its five lead­ers now are au­to­crats.

You have to pity

Cyril Ramaphosa, the last old­school so­cial­ist in the group.

Getty Im­ages/buda Men­des

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