Jair Bolsonaro, the farright former Army captain who looks likely to become Brazil’s next president, has promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of Latin America’s largest economy, vowing to combat the evils of corruption by gutting government ministries and privatising state companies. He also pledged to promote traditional values that would roll back the rights of gays and other minorities.
With his pledge of “Brazil above all,” Jair Bolsonaro has catapulted from the fringes of Congress, where he served as a member of marginal parties for 27 years, to a stone’s throw from the presidency. A rabblerouser who has reminisced fondly about dictatorship and promised an all-out war on drugs and crime, he just missed outright victory in last Sunday’s vote. He will now face former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) in an October 28 runoff.
Bolsonaro only needs a few more points to secure victory, and Haddad’s supporters vowed this week to launch a tough fight to make up ground after their candidate finished a distant second.
The election was a seismic shift for this nation of more than 200 million people, where the left has won the past four elections. Brazil’s move fits into a global trend among voters — in the United States and Europe, among other places — who are choosing antiestablishment and/or populist candidates who target minorities and promise a return to “traditional values.”
“The evils and damages of corruption hurt the people in many ways. It’s they who don’t have a bed in the hospital, who don’t have security in the streets or money in their pockets,” Bolsonaro tweeted Monday.
“Reduce the number of ministries, get rid of and privatise state companies, fight fraud in Bolsa Familia (a popular social welfare programme for low-income families) ... decentralise power giving more economic force to the states and municipalities,” he said on Twitter this week.
If elected, Bolsonaro has promised a total overhaul of Brazil’s government. The proposals that have attracted the most attention — and criticism — focus on how he would slash rising crime rates. Brazil has long been the world leader in homicides, with a record 63,880 people slain last year, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, an independent think-tank.
To this thorny problem, Bolsonaro has proposed simple solutions: give police more freedom to shoot first and give ordinary people freer access to guns. Critics have expressed concern that police violence, already a major contributor to the high homicide rate, will only worsen if police are given carte blanche.
While Brazilians say that deteriorating security is one of their major concerns, crime — and efforts to crack down on it — have become almost a metaphor in Bolsonaro’s campaign. He has painted a Brazil not only at war with criminals but, in many ways, with itself.
Bolsonaro has vowed to end the designation of indigenous lands, saying such reserves impede development and give special privilege to native peoples that others don’t get. His education policy calls for removing “premature sexualisation” from schools, a nod to criticism from the right that “leftist ideas” like sex education have taken hold in the curriculum and morality is absent.
In an interview Monday, Bolsonaro indicated he would not change his hard-line views on issues like gay marriage. The Constitution “recognises the stable union between a man and a woman,” he said, adding: “We can’t think that gays can have super powers” to influence laws.
Many are concerned that his veneration of the Armed Forces, including his praise of the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, signal that he will erode democratic values and rule with an authoritarian hand.
In the interview Monday, Bolsonaro pledged to be “a slave of the Constitution.”
“My administration will have authority, not authoritarianism,” he said.