In­side The Bub­ble Not “Pol­i­tics as Usual”

In­ter­view with As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Manuel Balan on Bol­sonaro

The McGill Daily - - Contents - This in­ter­view has been edited for clar­ity and length. Claire Gre­nier

Brazil held their first round of elec­tions, for pres­i­dent and Congress, on Oc­to­ber 7. While a num­ber of con­gress­peo­ple were elected, in­clud­ing Joê­nia Wapix­ana, Brazil’s first fe­male In­dige­nous rep­re­sen­ta­tive, no pres­i­den­tial can­di­date re­ceived 50 per cent or more of the vote. A runoff elec­tion will be held on Oc­to­ber 28. The two con­tenders for the pres­i­dency are now the far-right Jair Bol­sonaro and the Work­ers’ Party’s (PT) Fer­nando Had­dad In the Oc­to­ber 7 elec­tion, Bol­sonaro re­ceived 46 per cent of the vote, and Had­dad 21.

Bol­sonaro has been the sub­ject of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional un­ease for his rep­u­ta­tion as racist, misog­y­nis­tic, and mil­i­tarist. Some pub­li­ca­tions have com­pared him to the U.S. pres­i­dent, dub­bing him “the Trump of the Trop­ics.” His pop­u­lar­ity sparked a hash­tag, Elenão (“not him”). De­spite protests and an in­crease in po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, cur­rent polls still show that Bol­sonaro will al­most def­i­nitely be the next pres­i­dent of Brazil.

Manuel Balán, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the In­sti­tute for the Study of In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, spoke with the Daily about Brazil­ian pol­i­tics, why Bol­sonaro will be elected, and what this means for the coun­try.

The Mcgill Daily (MD): What is Brazil’s elec­toral sys­tem like?

Manuel Balán (MB): Brazil has a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem, mean­ing that the ex­ec­u­tive is con­cen­trated into one non-leg­is­la­tor called the pres­i­dent. Brazil has one of the most re­stric­tive two-round sys­tems in the re­gion. Even though the dif­fer­ence be­tween the can­di­dates was sub­stan­tive in the first round, we are still hold­ing a runoff elec­tion. In Ar­gentina, where there’s also a two-round sys­tem, if there’s a ten per cent dif­fer­ence be­tween the first and the sec­ond can­di­date in the first round, the first can­di­date is elected. Ac­cord­ing to the rules else­where in the re­gion, Bol­sonaro would al­ready have been elected. The other thing that is im­por­tant to know is that part of the con­gres­sional elec­tions are con­cur­rent with the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; they all hap­pen at the same time dur­ing the first round. This leads to what we usu­ally call coat­tail ef­fects. The can­di­dates that re­ceive votes in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion are able to bring with them a num­ber of leg­is­la­tors. In the con­text of this par­tic­u­lar elec­tion this means that even if a huge up­set takes place this Sun­day and Bol­sonaro loses this elec­tion, he’s al­ready man­aged to greatly em­power his coali­tion of leg­is­la­tors in Congress. Not to the same de­gree that he got al­most 47 per cent of the vote, but still sig­nif­i­cant enough gains at the con­gres­sional level that will, if elected pres­i­dent, al­low him to more eas­ily cre­ate coali­tions in gov­ern­ment. But also, if by any luck of the draw there is an up­set [and Bol­sonaro is not elected], his sup­port­ers will still con­trol Congress quite co­he­sively and it would be dif­fi­cult for any nonBol­sonaro pres­i­dent to ac­tu­ally get any­thing passed. Bol­sonaro has bet­ter odds in creat­ing a coali­tion that will get leg­is­la­tion passed, but I don’t mean this in a good way.

MD: Where is Bol­sonaro’s pop­u­lar­ity com­ing from?

MB: I think Bol­sonaro’s pop­u­lar­ity comes from a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent sources. The main char­ac­ter­is­tic of Bol­sonaro that brings him pop­u­lar­ity isn’t what gets all this me­dia at­ten­tion. It’s not his racism or misog­yny that’s get­ting him votes, it’s his “anti sys­tem” at­ti­tude. All the well-es­tab­lished par­ties in Brazil that have re­ceived most of the pres­i­den­tial votes in past elec­tions did very poorly in this elec­tion. The PT lost a lot of votes, but if you look at the for­mer op­po­si­tion party they also did su­per hor­ri­bly this elec­tion. If you look at the per­son who was the third place can­di­date in the last elec­tion, Ma­rina Silva, she went from 20 per cent of the vote to one per cent. Ev­ery­thing sort of in the mid­dle of the spec­trum, cen­tre left or cen­tre right, ba­si­cally any­thing that wasn’t ex­treme [Balán notes that he doesn’t find the PT ex­treme] lost its votes, and they lost most of those votes to Bol­sonaro. So this can be seen as an anti-sys­tem type of at­ti­tude by vot­ers that are frus­trated with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent things but two big ones. One is an econ­omy that is in re­ces­sion and has been strug­gling for years now, and the sec­ond is related, to some ex­tent, to all the cor­rup­tion scan­dals that we’ve seen. And these cor­rup­tion scan­dals have taken place dur­ing a PT gov­ern­ment (but do not ad­dress only the PT). If you look at the prior com­po­si­tion of Congress al­most all Congress mem­bers are be­ing pros­e­cuted or in­dicted for cor­rup­tion charges. They are all in­volved in this. So a re­jec­tion to­wards pol­i­tics as usual, plus an econ­omy on the down­turn, means peo­ple start look­ing for strong­man fig­ures. We’ve seen this else­where, where this larger-thanlife, maybe quasi-au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ure, who is not “pol­i­tics as usual” rises in pop­u­lar­ity. This in a way ex­plains one chunk of the vote. I think an­other part that can­not be for­got­ten is that the PT have been in gov­ern­ment for 12 years. Their gov­ern­ment, even with a lot of mis­takes, em­pow­ered a lot of mi­nori­ties, they helped a lot of lower classes, they brought a bunch of peo­ple out of poverty. Again with lots of mis­takes, but they did do this. So there is an anti-pt sen­ti­ment in Brazil that is very strong. Just as we saw the #Elenão move­ment, we also saw the Pt­não (any­one but the PT) move­ment. So peo­ple felt if Bol­sonaro was the guy that is go­ing to beat the PT, then so be it. This was a very an­ti­sys­tem and a very anti-pt vote.

MD: Was this elec­tion, then, more about send­ing a mes­sage than about elect­ing a gov­ern­ment peo­ple like?

MB: To some ex­tent, yes. To an­other ex­tent, it is about elect­ing a pow­er­ful fig­ure, some­one who seems to be a strong­man. Bol­sonaro cer­tainly fits that bill. This can be de­bated, but I don’t think that be­cause this guy is a racist, misog­y­nist, mil­i­taris­tic guy, that those sen­ti­ments are nec­es­sar­ily on the in­crease in Brazil. I think these sen­ti­ments have al­ways been in Brazil. There’s a big part of so­ci­ety that res­onates with these types of claims, not 47 per cent, but a big part. These sen­ti­ments are alive and well, but I don’t think that’s what peo­ple are choosing him for. But I think it’s not a mi­nor fac­tor, ei­ther. This guy has been in pol­i­tics for a long time, and he was some­one who was not taken se­ri­ously by the PT or by any­body. What ex­plains why he is start­ing to be taken se­ri­ously is that he is re­ceiv­ing sup­port and be­ing taken se­ri­ously by the strong eco­nomic pow­ers in the coun­try. So this gives him cred­i­bil­ity. Also, for years now we have seen the rise of evan­ge­lism as a very pow­er­ful so­ci­etal force, and as a very pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal force. There’s an evan­gel­i­cal part of Congress and Bol­sonaro is very much as­so­ci­ated with them, and a part of the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment in this elec­tion. This also helps ex­plain the rise of Bol­sonaro.

MD: Is the com­par­i­son of Trump and Bol­sonaro, like we’ve seen in the me­dia, valid?

MB: I think there are some sim­i­lar­i­ties. These are very dif­fer­ent coun­tries and Bol­sonaro and Trump are very dif­fer­ent them­selves. But I think there are some points of con­nec­tion. Trump is a busi­ness­man; Bol­sonaro is mil­i­tary. This is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in terms of their back­ground. I do think that Brazil, and the forces at play in Brazil and in the U.S., are sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent in many ways. But, yeah he is gen­er­ally is com­pared to Trump. I think he is, in my per­sonal view, much scarier than Trump – and I’m scared by Trump. He is much scarier than Trump in many ways. We can also draw com­par­isons with other cur­rent fig­ures like Or­ban, or in terms of the pro­cesses that are be­hind his rise to power, there are some par­al­lels as what hap­pened in Italy in the 90s, and how the pros­e­cut­ing of cor­rup­tion gen­er­ates a void in the po­lit­i­cal sphere and how out of this void an­other sort of “larger than life fig­ure” [Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni] emerges, that was ter­ri­ble for cor­rup­tion in Italy ac­tu­ally. So in draw­ing that par­al­lel, I think Bol­sonaro will be elected, and he will be ter­ri­ble for cor­rup­tion in Brazil. This is not the fix for cor­rup­tion, its mak­ing things worse. So yeah I think Trump is a valid com­par­i­son. I think Or­ban is a valid com­par­i­son. I think Ber­lus­coni is a valid com­par­i­son.

MD: What poli­cies do you see com­ing from Bol­sonaro’s elec­tion?

MB: There are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent things here. For all his racism, misog­yny, clas­sism, etc. I think those are things that he may not ex­plic­itly change pol­icy about. I don’t think that he will be a clas­sic au­thor­i­tar­ian mil­i­tary guy that will take over power and close Congress. I don’t think this is the type of sce­nario we should en­vi­sion go­ing for­ward. That doesn’t mean [that his elec­tion] isn’t a grim pic­ture. I think the grim pic­ture takes en­com­pases two things. One is any sort of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is gone out the win­dow, with any sort of pro­tec­tion of In­dige­nous rights. Be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is out the win­dow, this means com­plete and ut­ter free range for ex­ploita­tion of the Ama­zon. It wasn’t that the PT was great about en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, but this is go­ing to be a free for all. Here [the en­vi­ron­ment] is where he is go­ing to move quite quickly. This is in part what ex­plains the level of sup­port that he gets from busi­ness. These are min­ing com­pa­nies these, are nat­u­ral re­source com­pa­nies; this is why The Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished an ed­i­to­rial in favour of Bol­sonaro, say­ing that he is the right choice for Brazil. I think what lies be­hind this is busi­ness in­ter­ests and lack of reg­u­la­tion to ex­ploit nat­u­ral re­sources. This is very scary to me. And this is where I think we will see pol­icy chang­ing. Now the other part: the racism, the misog­yny, etc. I don’t think there will be changes in pol­icy, but I do think elect­ing a guy who says these things, as we saw in the U.S., brings cer­tain free range for peo­ple in their daily lives to ex­ert these kinds of dis­courses. And we al­ready are see­ing this. So I think ac­tual con­di­tions on the ground in Brazil when it comes to mi­nori­ties, women, other dis­em­pow­ered peo­ple, are go­ing to get sig­nif­i­cantly worse. There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween pol­icy and what hap­pens, but I think what hap­pens is its go­ing to get sig­nif­i­cantly worse. If this guy says this then why aren’t we do­ing what he says. [The sup­port of Bol­sonaro] val­i­dates a very misog­y­nis­tic, a very racist, a very clas­sist type of at­ti­tude to­wards peo­ple. One place where we may see some changes, one of the groups that is the most dis­ad­van­taged in Brazil are do­mes­tic work­ers, and they were com­pletely un­reg­u­lated up un­til re­cently. They worked ter­ri­ble hours for ter­ri­ble wages. This was changed, and now they’re reg­u­lated. The con­di­tions still aren’t great, but there is some im­prove­ment. Ev­ery­body [in Congress] voted in favour of this ex­cept for one per­son. And he has made it a point of his cam­paign to ad­ver­tise that he was the one guy that op­posed do­mes­tic worker pro­tec­tions. Guess who that is? Bol­sonaro.

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