ven in the most polarised opinion polls, almost half of Brazil’s voters were undecided or behind no-hopers.
If Brazil is now competing with the International Monetary Fund to be the prime external ingredient in the uncertainty affecting Argentina, that is also because tomorrow’s election has moved into a deeper zone of uncertainty in its final run-up. Right up to its final month the campaign was in limbo until the jailed runaway opinion poll leader, two-term ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, finally relinquished his presidential candidacy with less than four weeks to go before tomorrow’s voting. From that point on until very recently, tomorrow’s first round seemed a done deal as a routine confirmation of a run-off between Jair Bolsonaro on the far right and Fernando Haddad of Lula’s centre-left Workers Party (PT) at the other end of this month – the real decision.
Although not even unduly dislodged by Bolsonaro’s stabbing in Minas Gerais exactly one month ago today – which did not immediately trigger any massive sympathy vote – this scenario was always precarious. Even in the most polarised opinion polls, almost half of Brazil’s voters were undecided or behind no-hopers. And now on the eve of voting there looms the distinct danger of these democratic elections being won by their complete antithesis – in the first or second round alike.
The comfortable scenario of an inevitable run-off equally certain to be won by Haddad (since extremists are always a minority who can only prevail against a divided field) is fragile for reasons beyond Bolsonaro’s recent surge in the opinion polls and his strong evangelical support. Less than two years ago Donald Trump had lost the United States presidential elections according to every forecast until he won them (in the electoral college since he did indeed lose the popular vote) – a triumph requiring just 26 percent of the US electorate, comfortably within Bolsonaro’s range. Turning to Brazil itself, it would be inaccurate to project Argentina’s broad, if sometimes grudging consensus in favour of democracy to our giant neighbour – some opinion polls have shown as few as 20 percent of Brazilians to consider democracy the best system (or even the worst except all the others, in Winston Churchill’s words), thus making Bolsonaro’s obnoxiously authoritarian rhetoric less of a barrier than it might seem.
If indeed there is a run-off between two contrasting styles of populism (extremely probable but not an absolute certainty), a Haddad victory cannot be taken for granted. The countless reasons for rejecting Bolsonaro may weigh less than the overwhelming repudiation of corruption which ended PT rule in the midst of its fourth term – apart from which there is a general “been there, done that” mood among most Brazilian voters after more than a decade of Workers’ Party governments. Similar considerations work against Brazil’s other ruling party, the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), in the process of vanishing as a major political force and heading for its worst election since its first in 1990.
However opinionated columns might be, editorials are conventionally supposed to observe careful neutrality when it comes to elections, if not every issue, in a spirit of “May the best man (or woman) win.” However, Bolsonaro makes this approach impossible. “Authoritarian” would be an understatement for this outspoken former paratroop captain whose running-mate is a general even more closely identified with Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship than Bolsonaro wishes to be (he has congratulated torturers from that regime, including those who tortured former president Dilma Rousseff). As if this weren’t enough, his homophobic and misogynist opinions are equally repugnant and should preclude him from representing a nation in this century entirely, but perhaps it is also worth highlighting that this man who prides himself on his straight talk is a total and utter hypocrite – for all his anti-system rhetoric, he has occupied a parliamentary bench for decades, all the while achieving little that has helped his country’s path into the future. To that standard phrase “may be the best man win,” in this case we can only add: “May the worst man lose.”