Only a grand demo­cratic al­liance can stop Bol­sonaro

The Guardian Weekly - - Spotlight - By Tom Phillips LATIN AMER­ICA COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Brazil­ian left­ists heaved a huge col­lec­tive sigh of relief last Sun­day night af­ter Jair Bol­sonaro – the ho­mo­pho­bic, dic­ta­tor­ship-prais­ing far-right fron­trun­ner – fell just short of a stun­ning first-round vic­tory that would have made him pres­i­dent of one of the world’s largest and most di­verse democ­ra­cies.

Their relief may be short-lived. Fernando Had­dad, Bol­sonaro’s op­po­nent in the piv­otal sec­on­dround vote on 28 Oc­to­ber, has a moun­tain al­most as high as Brazil’s Pico da Ne­blina to climb if he is to scup­per the rightwing pop­ulist’s dra­matic po­lit­i­cal as­cent.

Bol­sonaro se­cured more than 49m votes – 46% of the to­tal and just shy of the ma­jor­ity he needed for an out­right win – while his Work­ers’ party (PT) op­po­nent won just 28%, or 31m votes.

Just to draw level with Bol­sonaro, Had­dad would need vir­tu­ally ev­ery sin­gle one of the vot­ers who opted for the third- and fourth-placed can­di­dates, Ciro Gomes and Ger­aldo Al­ck­min, to switch to his side.

“The path for Had­dad to close that gap looks al­most im­pos­si­ble,” said Brian Win­ter, the ed­i­tor-in-chief of Amer­i­cas Quar­terly, de­scrib­ing Bol­sonaro as a “huge favourite”.

Those hop­ing Had­dad can still win be­lieve he must now po­si­tion him­self as a cen­trist cham­pion of democ­racy who can pre­vent Brazil from lurch­ing back to­wards the kind of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule Bol­sonaro has so of­ten said he ad­mires.

Heloísa Star­ling, a Brazil­ian his­to­rian, said she be­lieved Had­dad now needed to piece to­gether “a great demo­cratic coali­tion” if Brazil was to avoid be­ing hur­tled back to­wards “tyranny”. “It can’t just be a left­wing coali­tion – it must in­clude ev­ery­one who is pre­pared to de­fend democ­racy,” Star­ling said.

James Green, the head of Brown Univer­sity’s Brazil Ini­tia­tive, agreed an “anti-fas­cist front” was es­sen­tial if Bol­sonaro was to be stopped.

De­feated can­di­dates such as for­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Ma­rina Silva would come un­der pres­sure to align them­selves with that pro-democ­racy bloc, ir­re­spec­tive of their bad blood with the PT, he said. “That is re­ally go­ing to mark the po­lit­i­cal lives of many peo­ple – which side they are on in the sec­ond round.”

There were signs Had­dad would seek to do just that. “I’ve al­ways been on the side of free­dom and democ­racy. I’m not go­ing to give up my val­ues,” he tweeted, claim­ing he had spo­ken to three of the de­feated can­di­dates and was open to “di­a­logue”.

Gomes, who came third with 12.5% of the vote and po­ten­tially has the most sup­port to trans­fer to Had­dad, said it was too early to say what he would do. But he ruled out sup­port for Bol­sonaro.

Win­ter, how­ever, said he was doubt­ful such an al­liance would be enough: “This is the path [PT lead­ers] see. They re­ally want to make a big case for democ­racy. But I don’t think it will res­onate.

“Most peo­ple back­ing Bol­sonaro know ex­actly what he is about at this point”, just as most Trump vot­ers were well aware of the kind of man they were elect­ing, Win­ter said.

In a cel­e­bra­tory Face­book broad­cast last Sun­day night, Bol­sonaro warned Brazil was on the edge of a cor­rupt, com­mu­nist “abyss” and could take one of two paths.

One was his path of “pros­per­ity, free­dom, fam­ily” and god­li­ness. The other was Had­dad’s: “the path of Venezuela”.

“We do not want this type of peo­ple re-oc­cu­py­ing the Palá­cio do Planalto,” Brazil’s pres­i­den­tial palace, Bol­sonaro warned of Had­dad’s PT.

Last Sun­day’s re­sults sug­gest most Brazil­ians agree.

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