Analysis | Brazil votes amid simmering civil war

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Analysis | Brazil votes against the backdrop of a latent civil war

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro waged fierce campaigns against each other.

Brazil will go at the polls on Sunday, October 30 to decide who, Jair Bolsonaro or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, will be its president for the next four years.

The Trump of the tropics, associated with the extreme right, author of sensational and provocative declarations on the army, on COVID-19, on homosexuals, on the deforestation of the Amazon and on the Brazilian electoral system, will he win there a second term?

Or, on the contrary, will former President Lula (from 2003 to 2011), the idol of the poor masses, legend of the South American left, return to service to save Brazilian democracy? In the second case, will Bolsonaro even recognize his defeat? If the answer is no, will we see street attacks against the president-elect and institutions in a disturbing echo of the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington?

Some fear it and say it… and justify their concern by lining up threatening quotes from the outgoing president.

Lula is popular with the less affluent in Brazil.

The latest polls show a Brazil cut into two almost equal parts, with a slight advantage for the candidate of the left. Two worlds clash, with completely different perceptions.

On the one hand, the popular masses who fear the return of hunger and citizens worried about the threats of a potentially putschist president, facing the young Brazilian democracy.

De l on the other side, religious conservatives in favor of law and order, citizens who remained hostile to the reds, haunted by the last years of the left in power, which were economically very bad.

Between the two is a business community which, apart from the agribusiness lobby, has been disappointed by the chaotic and incompetent management of the past four years and which votes rather Lula, but without enthusiasm. And there is also the army which, despite appeals from Bolsonaro's foot, does not seem to be predominantly putschist.

According to the latest survey by Datafolha, 48% to 52% of voters would vote in favor of Lula after distribution of the undecided. However, pollsters had severely underestimated candidate Bolsonaro in the first round, putting him in the 33% to 37% range, when he eventually got over 43% of the vote, five points behind Lula.


Whatever the result, a climate of latent civil war has settled in the country. Detestation, even mutual hatred, has taken precedence over a serene debate between divergent programs and orientations.

Several supporters of Jair Bolsonaro believe that ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should be in prison.

It was palpable from the start of the last debate between the two protagonists on Friday evening, when a closed-faced Bolsonaro, reading notes in the palm of his hand, claimed that the whole system is against me, that the Electoral Tribunal cut us off from radio advertising time and that Lula should be in jail.

Meanwhile, Lula replied by citing the figure of 6491 lies uttered according to him by Bolsonaro since he is president. He also spoke of the shameful isolation of Brazil on the international scene since his opponent is in the Planalto Palace (the Brazilian equivalent of the White House): no one wants to be seen alongside this diplomatic plague.

Today, Brazil is more isolated than Cuba, he said during this last debate.

How did we get here? In October 2018, Jair Bolsonaro, an army captain who already had a long career as a backbencher behind him, was known for his loudly proclaimed nostalgia for the military dictatorship. He multiplied the reactionary and nostalgic rants in Parliament. According to him, the 1964-1985 period of the dictatorship was a golden age in our country.

During the dismissal of former President Dilma Roussef, in 2016, who had been a guerrilla in her youth, he praised, in the middle of the Chamber of Deputies, a famous torturer who had taken care of her during her detention in 1970.

Jair Bolsonaro has multiplied inflammatory statements over the past four years.

Vulgar and provocative, unconditionally pro-army, hostile to democracy (or at least to some of its institutions, i.e. the press and the independent courts, as well as the electoral system, whose impartiality), he is also a declared antiscientist. During the pandemic, he has multiplied fanciful, ignorant and devoid of empathy statements. He is also known for his misogynistic statements. He had once said to a congresswoman: You are too ugly to deserve to be raped.

And yet this man who talks continuously without filter had burst the screen during his 2018 campaign and ended up winning in the second round.

It was therefore the triumph of transgression and the permanent arm of honor against the system. Any resemblance to a famous North American politician is no coincidence. Trump and Bolsonaro, same fight? In any case, the two countries have processes that have many points in common.

It must be said that the recession of the mid-2010s and the corruption scandals that broke out during the presidency of the Workers' Party, or PT (2003-2016, with the hero Lula da Silva followed by the poor heiress Dilma Roussef), had helped him by giving him grist to grind against the left, the source of all evil.

However, it is well known that during those years, the highly decentralized political system of Brazil (a lot of powers in the States; from 20 to 30 parties in Parliament depending on the year, more than in Israel!) had diffused, as cancer, corruption cases in most political parties, not just the one that held the presidency.

Jair Bolsonaro rode this theme against the Workers' Party for a long time… and it has continued to this day, even though the PT has been out of power for six years and his own administration has had its tales of patronage and beatings. hidden boxes.

In 2018, he won 46% of the votes cast in the first round, then he clearly beat the PT candidate in the second round, Fernando Haddad, by a score of 55% to 45%.

However, at the time, without really having a clean record (with already 28 years in politics!), he was a relative newcomer to the pinnacle of power and had no record to defend. Despite his extremist label, we had voted for him because he would clean up the house by sweeping away the leftists and because he spoke frankly if not elegantly.

The disappointed petty bourgeoisie of the PT years, the business circles, the middle classes exasperated to see the poor begin to travel and even to send their children to university (result of their social promotion in the Lula years), without forgetting the evangelists delighted by his tirades on law and order, God, family and country: all these beautiful people would carry Bolsonaro to power.

A supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro took part in celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Brazil's independence, in Sao Paulo on September 7, 2022.

One would have thought that four years later, the situation would be different. Between January 2019 (seizure of power) and the October 2022 election, we could see what a Bolsonaro administration was worth, in use, to then sanction its results.

These results include the following:

  • One of the worst health tolls in the world during the pandemic (700,000 deaths in absolute figures, not to mention the very high rates of cases and deaths due to COVID) and an impoverishment of the working classes with the return of undernourishment in certain regions.
  • The sharp increase in deforestation and fires in the Amazon, the result (among other things) of a collusion of power with the agri-food lobby, which prefers to raze the forests for grazing.
  • A neglected education sector, largely abandoned to the influence of evangelical lobbies, major supporters of the far-right president.
  • Without forgetting, from the point of view of the method of exercising power, a generalization of invective, denigration and accusations of all kinds. A steady stream of false rumours, systematized on the social networks of which Brazil is fond (WhatsApp), has also swept over the country.

Even once in power, the Bolsonaro administration was characterized by an ongoing campaign tone with systematic online disinformation, some recurring themes of which are: The left is Satan; Lula the Corrupt; Lula and the drug traffickers; Lula wants to close the churches.

Despite these outrages, despite catastrophic health and environmental results, the result of the first round, on October 2, showed the exceptional resilience of Bolsonaro and his support in the Brazilian population.

Like Trump in the United States, who shone neither by his competence, nor by his ideas, nor by his knowledge of the files, Bolsonaro transformed politics into a permanent spectacle of political guerrilla warfare and personality cult and obtained a score astonishing in the first round: 43.2% of the votes cast, down slightly from the first round of 2018. (For the record: in the presidential election of 2020, Trump obtained 47% of the votes.)

Outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has garnered a lot of support despite numerous controversies.

In Congress (Senate and Chamber of Deputies), the successes of his allies were numerous in the elections of October 2. General Eduardo Pazuello, a health minister so incompetent he left COVID patients to die of suffocation in Manaus when he had supplies of oxygen on hand to save them, triumphed at the polls in Rio .

Another triumphant election: that of Ricardo Salles, the Minister of the Environment (2019-2021) reputed to be in the pay of the agri-food lobby, who presided over a catastrophic rise in the deforestation in the Amazon by repealing environmental protection laws. The politician obtained one of the highest scores as a deputy in the Chamber.

As we can see, Bolsonarism, like Trumpism in the United States, has made its nest in the landscape, and this, in a lasting way, beyond the founding personalities. The quality or otherwise of their management has almost no relation to the impressive scores they continue to obtain in the elections.

Lula da Silva spent almost two years in prison for corruption before the charges against him were retroactively overturned.

Faced with Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism, Lula da Silva, the former president who wants to become one again, the hero of the poor in the Nordeste, is a man who has come a long way.

From 2016 until 2019, he was in the grip of justice for all kinds of corruption crimes, many of which, we will understand later, were made up.

In 2018 and 2019, he spent 580 days in jail before all charges against him were retrospectively overturned by the Supreme Court. It was Sergio Moro, the star judge in charge of the Lava Jato investigation into systemic corruption in Brazil, who had him apprehended and later convicted in 2018.

In Brazilian legal practices, there are amazing bridges: after his disavowal by the Supreme Court, Sergio Moro entered politics… alongside Bolsonaro! This looks like an admission, a posteriori, of the partisan character of his relentlessness against Lula, something that telephone interceptions have revealed in broad daylight.

A much like Joe Biden, who was entrusted in 2020, at the age of 77, with the task of emptying Donald Trump from the White House, Lula, who is also 77 years old today, is the hope of those who hope to burst the abscess Bolsonaro.

In any case, the victory of one or the other will be narrowly won and will leave gaping the division of a country at 50-50, apparently without a middle way of compromise.

A narrow victory for Bolsonaro will heighten the worries — or the despair — of those who fear that Brazilian democracy and environmental concerns in this lung country will disappear for good.

However, a narrow victory for Lula will not burst the abscess, just as Joe Biden's did not in the United States. In addition to the possible dangers of a coup or a revolutionary mobilization of armed supporters of Bolsonaro, it will be the very ability of President Lula II to govern that will be called into question.

The Gordian knot of Brazilian democracy will not be cut by this nothing less than dramatic presidential election.

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