Populist autocrats are rising around the world. Will Brazil be next?
THE sweeping victory of far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro in last Sunday’s first-round elections in Brazil could veer Latin America’s political map sharply to the right and be part of a growing worldwide trend of populist authoritarian leaders.
Bolsonaro, who admires President Donald Trump, won first-round voting with 46% of the vote, followed by leftist Workers’Party candidate Fernando Haddad with 29% and center-left hopeful Ciro Gomes with 12%.
Although third-place Gomes has already suggested he will vote for leftist candidate Haddad in the Oct 28 runoff, it will be an election for Bolsonaro to lose. The right-wing candidate would have to make a huge mistake to lose the second-round vote.
While Bolsonaro resembles Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other populists for his often outrageous views – he has repeatedly made offensive comments about women, blacks and gays – some long-time Brazil watchers say he would not likely have the power to become an autocrat.
Unlike most authoritarian leaders, Bolsonaro would not have a majority in Congress or a loyalist Supreme Court. While Bolsonaro will have the second-largest congressional bloc after the Workers’ Party, it will only hold 52 seats of the lower house’s 513 congressional seats.
And it would not be easy for Bolsonaro to gradually grab absolute powers. Brazil’s economy is in a shambles, and populist leaders – from Erdogan to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – have most often been able to erode democratic institutions an nd accumulate growing powe ers in times of economic bonanzas.
“He would most likely beb a weak leader,” says Peter Hakim, a veteran Brazil analyst with the InterAmerican Dialogue think tank in Washington DC.
“While Trump came with the Republican Party, y, and the Republican Party controlled Congress, Bolsonaro comes with non ne of that.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s mor re than two decades in Congress, h he went almost unnoticed the ere, and he has no managerial l experience. He ran his cam mpaign mainly aided by his childr ren, and through Facebook, Tw witter and Whatsapp.
But most Brazil experts fear that Bolsonaro would beco ome an autocrat because, amon ng other things, Brazil does n not have a long history of democratic institutions. A lawand-order candidate in a countryc whose population is despe erate for stronger measures to curb b violence could easily give rise to a p populist autocrat, they say.
Only last year, almost 64 4,000 people were murdered in Brazil. Not su urprisingly, Bolsonaro’s key campaign promise of giving more flexibility to police and security forces to shoot at criminals and drug dealers has been applauded by much of the population.
About half of respondents in a March poll by Ibope agreed with the statement “A good thief is a dead thief.”
“Bolsonaro despises democracy, at least the version that has been practiced in Brazil over the past 30 years,” writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly magazine.
Winter cites the fact that Bolsonaro, in the past, has called for Congress to be closed, said that Brazil’s military dictatorship’s biggest mistake was “to torture instead of kill,” and that if elected president he would “start a dictatorship right away.”
More recently, Bolsonaro has vowed to stack the Supreme Court with sympathetic judges and has picked a recently retired general – who is alsoo nostalgic of the military dictatorship – as his running mate. Despite Bolsonnaro’s latest claim that he woulld not seek to change the 1988 Constitution, “There is simpply far more evidence that suggests Bolsonaro, when faced with resistance, will iignore or trample democratic practices and norms to get his way,” Winter says. Thhat’s bad news.
In LLatin America, right-wing autoccratic regimes tend to produuce violent counter-reactions and gennerate new crops of radical leftist lleaders.
The ttragedy of Brazil’s Oct. 28 election iis that Bolsonaro’s rival Haddad is also running on an authoritarian platfoorm. Haddad may be a moderate witthin his Workers’ Party, but that party has run amok. It is calling for “social controls over the administration of justice” and is ledd by an admirer of Maduro’s dictatorship in Veenezuela.
Let’s hope we’rre wrong, but it looks like – whoever wins thhe runoff election – Brazil is headed toward a chaotic populist autocracy. — Tribune Newss Service
Presidential frontrunner: Bolsonaro just missed outright victory in Sunday’s vote and will face former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party in an Oct 28 runoff.