During the recent Brazilian elections, held on the 2nd and 30th of October, political tension between different parties rose to levels that haven’t been seen since the end of the Brazilian dictatorship in 1985. There have been several episodes of violent aggression by Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters to discourage opposing electors to vote. Even some notable politicians, like Bolsonaro’s ally Roberto Jefferson, did not abstain from using violence. Both Bolsonaro and Luiz Ignacio Da Silva, known as Lula, are nowadays considered controversial candidates for different reasons in Brazilian public opinion. The strong polarization in Brazilian society is also evident in the result of the runoff: 50,90% voted for Lula, and 49,10% for Bolsonaro. It is interesting how most of the foreign media covered this election focusing on Environment, administrative corruption and Covid crisis management, but not giving great attention to general macroeconomic issues.

 These are relevant to understand Brazilian citizens’ voting intentions in this year’s and in the 2018 elections, where Bolsonaro won over the Workers’ Party Candidate (Partido dos Trabalhadores or PT in Portuguese) Fernando Haddad. These elections were particularly affected by the medium-term effects of the 2014 economical crisis. To understand the PT’s decline it’s necessary to detect certain decisions made during its golden period under Lula and Dilma Rousseff.

 Lula has surely more expertise than his opponent Bolsonaro since he led the national government between 2003 and 2010. Before being elected president, he was already popular as a major trade union leader in the 1980s. Trade union activities were crucial to the opposition against the militarist dictatorship that ruled Brazil at that time. After the establishment of the actual democratic regime in 1985, Lula was the most relevant left-wing candidate in all the presidential elections since 1989. During the 1990s, he slowly changed from a far-left political position to a more moderate one. This new attitude allowed him to obtain a landslide victory (61,27%) in the 2002 presidential elections.

 A relevant element of his electoral program in the 2002 and 2006 campaigns consisted of the adoption of expansive economic policies, which meant the enlargement of public spending to increase national production. He also promised to raise the minimum wage and carry out a profound reform of the education system. Lula’s program was considered to be lacking in alternative proposals on economic issues even by left-wing commenters. However, during his presidency, the Brazilian economy had an evident boom between 2003 and 2011, which was provoked by Lula’s fiscal policy on national production. This prosperous period ended in 2011, when the demand for Brazilian products significantly decreased due to a slowdown in Chinese economy in the same year. Rousseff decided to protect small and medium-sized enterprises through subsidies and tax exemption. These measures brought to a rise in loan prices, which led to stagnation and then to recession in 2014.

 However, it’s also necessary to mention that this crisis was also likely due to internal political instability, which was partly caused by the related to scandals related to the Operação Lava Jato (literally “Operation Car Wash”), consisting of a massive investigation on a system of bribes from the main Big oil company Petrobras to several public officers. Lula was charged with corruption in 2014 and Rousseff was impeached in 2016. Lula was sentenced by Judge Sergio Moro, later to become minister in Bolsonaro’s administration, and convicted in april 2018, despite the case not be definitively settled, and removing him from the presidential race where he appeared well ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls.  The charges were not based on significant proof and the prosecution was flawed by numerous procedural irregularities, which led to the annulment by the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2021. Also the UN also determined that Lula’s trial violated Due Process. This allowed Lula to run again in 2022 elections for Brazilian presidency. However, the damage to his reputation caused by the Lava Jato operation lasted for the entire Bolsonaro administration and probably played a relevant role in the small vote margin between Lula and Bolsonaro

 Another possible reason for the Workers’ Party’s decline is related to the fact that social inequalities were reduced way less than expected, despite the evident growth of the Brazilian economy between 2003 and 2011. Among the reasons for Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 we can find: the later disappointing result, a general perception of corruption in the PT fuelled by Lava Jato, and the economic crisis between 2014 and 2016 that Rousseff’s government did not manage to overcome.

 Bolsonaro’s first campaign was focused on the struggle against corruption and the proposal of several neoliberal measures to overcome the consequences of the economic 2014 crisis. These measures consisted of a series of tax cuts for the most important firms and the deregulation of norms regarding natural heritage protection to intervene in the Amazon forest and build new infrastructures. Despite the initial enthusiasm and his promise to carry out a “conservative revolution”,  Bolsonaro’s economic doctrine was proven ineffective in the very first year, where the national GDP decreased by -0.2%. Only in 2021 there was a 4,6% GDP increase. However, it is important to consider that this is a natural consequence of the previous year’s recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is important to consider the global effect during the whole term. During the period between 2017 and 2021 Brazilian GDP per capita decreased beyond 20%. Even between 2014 and 2017, almost contemporarily to the last 2 years of Roussef’s government, there’s a 15,9% decrease. At the same time, during her first term between 2010 and 2014, there was an 11,1% increase of GDP per capita. The overall result here is not brilliant, but certainly better than under Bolsonaro’s administration.

 Another relevant cause of the weakening of his popularity is related to Bolsonaro’s completely inadequate management of the Covid crisis, especially between March and November 2020. During this period he underrated the pandemic as a real hazard and “accused the media of ‘fear-mongering’”, as reported by the BBC. As a result the mortality from Covid made up for 11% of casualties with a population close to 3% of the world population. Among the large countries only the USA obtained a worse result. This denialist approach, together with the enlargement of social inequality due to the pandemic, brought Bolsonaro’s popularity to its bare minimum.

All of these element help comprehend the results of the run-off, even though they are not entirely clear. Bolsonaro’s economic policy failures disappointed most of his supporters from the middle class and his denial of climate change and the COVID pandemic caused a strong reaction from the opposition. However, most of the polls predicted a much more brilliant victory for Lula. This doesn’t imply that the environmental issue was not important in this presidential election. This is clear when observing the results in the Amazonian regions. Bolsonaro obtained the highest success in areas that have been deforested under his administration, probably from those citizens who received the greatest advantages from all the economical activities related to deforestation.

 Another possible reason could be the strong support from the conservative Evangelic Community, which grew from 22,2% in 2010 to 31% in 2020. The reasons of this increase are still not well known, but a few demographic observations can help understand. The main protestant churches in Brazil started to admit new members in the 1990s when they abandoned their initial millenarism. This is the belief in a coming radical transformation of the world that will only save the most virtuous humans. This idea allows the church to require extreme obedience, strict and literal compliance with religious norms and abstention from political participation from the other members. After having abandoned this religious concept, the main evangelical churches considered it important to gain political representation. For this reason, they started to have tight relations with several conservative politicians who wanted to exploit their endorsement. Furthermore, evangelical communities started several missionary activities in numerous slums and prisons in the whole Brazilian territory. In fact, black women represent the largest social cluster in Protestant groups. Most of the members were converted when they were between 25 and 40. It is nowadays clear that most of the evangelical community’s growth is related to a general disappointment in the Workers’ Party from part of the middle-low classes. This allowed the spread of several Protestant conservative values both in social and economic fields. Their practical theory is mostly based on Prosperity theology. This is the belief that it is sufficient to be part of the Christian community to obtain access to heaven and economic prosperity in earthly life.

 To conclude, Brazil is together with Mexico the most influential geopolitical actor in Latin America. Any changes in its trends towards foreign affairs and environmental policy will affect the whole world. This is true especially if we talk about its position in the BRICS organization and its relation with Russia. Bolsonaro’s foreign policy saw him very close to Vladimir Putin and former U.S. president Donald J. Trump. In the beginning, he tried to adopt a challenging approach to China. At the same time, during the vaccination campaign in 2021 and 2022, Bolsonaro bought 6 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from Beijing. This can be considered a relevant signal of a further rapprochement to Xi Jinping. On the other hand, Lula’s closeness to China was well-known, having organized the first BRICS meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2006.

Now the real question is what kind of foreign affairs strategy the newly-elected president will adopt in the next decade to maintain Brazil’s internal stability.

I would like to thank Prof. Marcos Cesar Danhoni Neves from the State University of Maringá, who gave precious contributions to source research for this article.

Sources

–       Acosta Rainis, Federico (2022, November 1), Brazilian elections: How Lula won the runoff, From Sao Paulo to the north-east, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/01/brazil-election-how-lula-won-the-runoff-from-sao-paulo-to-the-north-east, The Guardian

–        Danhoni Neves, Marcos Cesar (2018, November 14) Marcos Cesar Danhoni Neves: As referências de Moro ou de como o fascismo devora a si próprio, https://revistaforum.com.br/news/2018/11/14/marcos-cesar-danhoni-neves-as-referncias-de-moro-ou-de-como-fascismo-devora-si-proprio-36193.html, Revista Fòrum

–        Branco, Mariana (2016, May 5), Crise internacional e problemas internos são causas do desemprego no Brasil,  https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/economia/noticia/2016-05/crise-internacional-e-problemas-internos-sao-causas-do-desemprego-no-brasil, Agencia Brasil

–    Magenta, Matheus (2022, 31 August), O que é ser evangélico?, BBC NEWS  Brasil, https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-62551290 

–        Magenta, Matheus (2022, Semptember 22) O que é ser corrupto?, https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-62550841, BBC News Brasil

–   Zilla, Claudia (2020, January 17), Evangelicals and Politics in Brazil, https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/evangelicals-and-politics-in-brazil, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik

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