Bolsonaro’s Brazil?

The country’s political economy looksall set for a rightward shift
The far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro could not have got closer to Brazil’s presidency in a more convincing manner in the first round of elections, that took place on Sunday. The former army captain who belongs to the Social Liberal Party notched up 46% of the vote, only a few percentage points short of crossing the 50% needed for an outright victory, in a multi-cornered contest. In a graphic illustration of the sharp polarisation in Latin America’s largest country, he left his nearest rival, Fernando Haddad, of the Workers’ Party (PT), who garnered 29% of the vote, far behind. If that were not enough, the elections also put paid to speculation that the right-wing radical may not secure adequate representation in the new legislature. Mr. Bolsonaro’s party has won enough seats in Congress to allow him greater latitude to influence the course of the next government, should he win the run-off on October 28, as is expected. Mr. Haddad has a tough fight on his hands. A lawyer and an economist, he espouses more moderate economic positions than either Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff, former Presidents and the architects of generous welfare programmes. But an electorate that has seen the downfall of several mainstream politicians since the Operation Car-Wash investigations into political patronage and sleaze, views Mr. Haddad as representing a corrupt and compromised establishment. Moreover, the PT was at best reluctant to throw its weight behind him; it waited until the courts rejected Mr. Lula’s candidacy, weeks before the polls. Mr. Bolsonaro, despite his long experience as a congressman from Rio de Janeiro, has gained from the perception of being a political outsider. Ahead of the elections, he reinvented himself as an economic liberal, promising to reform the bloated pension system that allegedly has been gamed by the more privileged. Investors prefer to give Mr. Bolsonaro the benefit of the doubt for now. His popularity has also occasioned comparisons to other populist leaders around the world. His admiration for the country’s military dictatorship during the 1960s-1980s is well-known. The presidential frontrunner has made no secret of his misogynistic, homophobic and racist opinions. Many of these positions may be watered down to widen Mr. Bolsonaro’s appeal before the final polls. But so far, his trigger-happy instincts have not sufficiently troubled voters, whose tolerance for venality has worn thin over these years. They may, for instance, count on him to pass legislation to ease environmental restrictions and to crack down on crime. Mr. Haddad may consider moderating his party’s stance, but will be mindful of risking the alienation of his core constituency, the poor.
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