A populist haze

Brazil votes this week in an election charged by an anti-establishment campaign
The campaign for Sunday’s elections in Brazil is beset by an anti-establishment mood, as in several democracies. Legislators at the state and national levels are being elected, but it is the contest for the President’s post that has really polarised the campaign. The personalised nature of the contest owes to the lingering shadow of Operation Car Wash, a buzzword for the anti-corruption campaign that underpins the confrontation between the legislature and the judiciary. At the centre of the investigations into the multi-billion dollar distribution of patronage to political and bureaucratic bigwigs is Petrobras, the state-owned oil firm. The anti-graft developments have removed established leaders from the fray, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former President from the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) now serving a 12-year jail sentence. His bid to run for a third term was quashed by the electoral court, following the dismissal of an appeal against his 2017 conviction. Under the watch of Mr. Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil plunged into its worst recession in a century. She was impeached, but more on technical grounds linked to fiscal mismanagement than any egregious violations. The outgoing President, Michel Temer, also came under the prosecution’s scanner but he survived, thanks to Congressional intervention to prevent any ripple effects. The overall atmosphere in the run-up to the elections has thus got more murky. Surging in several opinion polls in the five-corner presidential contest for the first round is the far-right frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain often compared with autocratic leaders elsewhere. A stabbing incident at an election rally has forced Mr. Bolsonaro to campaign from his hospital bed, a sign of the sharp and often violent polarisation between political extremes. The firebrand politician’s homophobic and misogynistic views triggered protests over the weekend by thousands of women. Mr. Bolsonaro’s main challenger is the PT’s Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of São Paulo, whose nomination was deferred until the verdict on Mr. Lula’s candidacy. Mr. Haddad’s prospects may have improved had the PT reconciled itself to the overturning of Mr. Lula’s appeal in January. The party’s best hope now is that the economist will convert the former President’s popularity into votes for himself. There is concern among investors that the election of a populist may impede long overdue reforms to break the dominance of sectional interests in Brazil’s economic policies. Such intervention is seen as crucial to restore investor confidence, stimulate infrastructure growth and reverse Brazil’s recession. The expectation is that Sunday’s vote will result in a run-off. That, many hope, will set the stage for a more sober lead-up to the final vote.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/a-populist-haze/article25117040.ece

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