Background

This Sunday’s presidential runoff election in Brazil is exemplary of a trend that has become increasingly pronounced in recent years: voters dissatisfied with the status quo are turning en masse to lend their support to a radical political outsider who they believe will solve all of the problems plaguing their nation by vowing to ‘make it great again,’ often proposing to restore law and order while blaming the nation’s problems on other ethnic groups.

In the first of two elections for the presidency, Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL), captured 46 percent of the vote and Fernando Haddad, the candidate of the party of popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and impeached former president Dilma Rousseff, the Workers’ Party (PT), captured just 29 percent. Because Bolsonaro was unable to capture at least 50 percent of the vote, triggering Sunday’s runoff. Though Bolsonaro’s campaign has been marred by past misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-democratic comments, as the race stands at publication, he is the clear favorite to win the election, with a 12-point lead (56 percent of the vote to Haddad’s 44.)

The candidates

Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of São Paulo, has strong ties to PT, a liability in the current political climate. From 2005 to 2012, Haddad served as the Minister of Education under former President Lula da Silva. During his tenure, the department implemented reforms to improve Brazil’s education system, like the University for All Program (ProUni), which offers scholarships for low-income students attending private universities, and made several reforms to the National High School Exam (Enem) so as to amplify its usage in college admissions. In 2009, his department was caught up in a scandal in which the Enem was leaked out to the public, so government officials had to reschedule the test.

Unfortunately for Haddad, many Brazilians associate PT with the corruption uncovered by Operation Car Wash and the atrocious economic conditions of recent years. In March 2017, CNBC reported that the Brazilian economy was 8 percent smaller than it was in 2014. Unemployment has hovered in the double digits for a couple years, and in 2018, Gallup polls revealed that nearly one in three Brazilians (32 percent) said they did not have enough money to afford the food they needed in the past year and a quarter (25 percent) also reported they lacked enough money for shelter.

Haddad’s chief campaign tactic is attempting to win the favor of the voters by associating himself with Lula, who remains an incredibly popular figure. Lula, who earlier announced his candidacy for president this election cycle, was ultimately unable to run because he was implicated and jailed in conjunction with Operation Car Wash. One of Haddad’s iconic ads depicts actors playing voters holding spinning signs that say Lula on one side and Haddad on the other, in an attempt to get people to associate the two of them together.

As the PT party nominee, his political stances are left-leaning. His goal is “to unite the democrats of this country, to reduce inequality and to achieve social justice.” He promises to overturn the austerity measures and economic privatization introduced by unpopular incumbent President Michel Temer’s conservative government and his party has pledged to kickstart a moribund economy with infrastructure construction financed by $40 billion of Brazil’s international reserves. The platform also pledged to introduce tax cuts for the poor, higher taxes on the rich, increased protections for LGBT people, and demarcation of indigenous lands. But Haddad has raised concerns about his party’s spending plans, so his true policy stances are unclear. His only concrete stance is to appear to the public as a replica of Lula, it seems.

Bolsonaro, the front-runner, is the PSL’s candidate for president. His policy stances include a ‘law and order’ approach that calls back memories of the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and has earned him the backing of the military and other institutions concerned with the rising crime rate. He believes in tough punishments for offenders, has spoken of torture as a legitimate practice and wants to restore the death penalty. One of his more infamous lines is that “A policeman who doesn’t kill is not a policeman.” Brazilian voters may buy into Bolsonaro’s plans — Brazil’s murder rate was six times higher than the U.S.’s in 2016, at 30 homicides per 100,000 people, and rising. Bolsonaro is also guilty of spouting misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric. He has said ugly women “don’t deserve to be raped,” called Afro-Brazilians lazy and fat, and said he could never love a gay son. On the economic front, Bolsonaro has announced plans to lower taxes, privatize state companies, and limit foreign ownership of natural resources. His stances and demeanor have earned him the moniker of “Brazil’s Trump.”

Brazil-U.S. relations

Unlike Haddad, who has expressed doubts about America First and warned of spillover effects of the U.S.-China trade war, Bolsonaro’s likely election may improve Brazil-U.S. relations. Bolsonaro’s eldest son, himself a Member of Congress, met Donald Trump, Jr. at a Las Vegas shooting range. Steve Bannon, formerly one of the president’s closest advisors, has pledged his help to Bolsonaro’s campaign. Although Bolsonaro and Trump seem like natural allies, whether two leaders who are both intensely focused on their own internal affairs can improve their countries’ bilateral relationship is not a resolved question — especially when Brazil’s and the U.S.’s internal interests may diverge.