Election with two controversial favorites: Polarized Brazil elects a new president on Sunday. Leading in polls are a right-wing populist and a surrogate for an imprisoned ex-president.
Brazil faces a choice of fate. But even before Sunday's vote, the mood is more one of gloom than optimism: according to polls, the two favorites are also those with the greatest rejection among the population. Neither the right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro nor Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party (PT) are expected to unify the country, which is plagued by economic crisis and corruption scandals. The deep division into opposing political camps threatens to deepen further.
Military dictatorship as a vision of the future
The former paratrooper Bolsonaro takes advantage of the heated atmosphere and provokes with derogatory remarks about women, dark-skinned people and homosexuals. For him, the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985 is a model for the future of Brazil. He wants to control the tense security situation, with rapidly increasing robberies and shootings in poor neighborhoods, with even more guns and touts killing criminals as a solution.
Polls predict about 30 percent of the vote for the 63-year-old hardliner. Its supporters are largely the same ones who took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands two years ago to demand the ouster of center-left President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party. At the time, the mass media and conservative opposition parties blamed the Workers' Party for the onset of the economic downturn, corruption and political intolerance in the country.
However, the ouster of Rousseff in 2016 and the amption of power by the highly unpopular conservative Michel Temer did not change these problems. Rather, it opened the doors to a diffuse mood that today unapologetically questions the rule of law.
Against the threat of a shift to the right
"I will not accept the election results if I don't win," Bolsoraro said in a recent radio interview. Haddad's victory would be "proof that the PT is betting on electoral fraud". The right-wing populist repeatedly criticized electronic ballot boxes as a gateway for manipulation. Vague statements by Bolsonaro and even some generals are interpreted by critics as a veiled threat that military intervention is to be expected if the Workers' Party wins another election.
The prospect of Bolsonaro's victory has galvanized a broad, anti-fascist movement. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in all the country's major cities last weekend, saying "Ele Nao – Not Him". Under this slogan, women's groups are also mobilizing on social networks against the impending shift to the right. Even organized fans of major soccer clubs are turning against Bolsonaro in statements criticizing players who flirt with the right-wing candidate.
Continue social policies
For Haddad, this movement means tailwind. Depending on the poll, the former mayor of Sao Paulo now has an approval rating of 22 to 25 percent, well ahead of third-place finisher Ciro Gomes, who also represents the center-left spectrum, with eleven percent. Haddad is predicted to win the runoff election in late October. His constituents, however, vote less for him than for the imprisoned Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for whom Haddad stepped in. The popular ex-president (2003-2010) may not run because of his corruption conviction. Workers' Party sees Lula's legal prosecution as an electoral gambit by right-wing political and judicial circles, as Lula came in at 40 percent in August polls.
Haddad promises continuity. The 55-year-old former education minister wants to continue the successful social policies of his predecessors Lula and Rousseff. "The coup against Rousseff has weakened democracy and the balance of institutions," Haddad said during the election campaign. There is an urgent need to promote the country's development with a socially oriented economic policy and to end the climate of confrontation.
No chance for conservative parties
The candidates of the major conservative parties who engineered the fall of Rousseff are now all polling in single digits. The consistent failure of two years of Temer's government has apparently been their undoing in this presidential election. But they are likely to dominate Congress again and then torpedo an eventual Labor Party government by any means necessary.