The extreme right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential elections on 28 October in the second round with a margin of 11 million votes (all in all about 58 million or 55 per cent) against the candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT) Fernando Haddad with 47 million votes, representing 45 per cent of the vote. Another 40 million Brazilians did not vote or cast empty ballots instead. What is to be expected from the incoming presidency that starts on January 1, 2019? And why did voters turn to the radical right after 13 years of governments led by presidents from the PT plus two years of an interim neoliberal government that came to power via a parliamentary coup?
The spectacular fact is not what is visible at first sight – that the PT candidate Haddad lost – but that the traditional right-wing parties, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), sank into meaninglessness. Their candidates, Meirelles of the PMDB, the traditional party of rural elites and the incumbent president Michel Temer, got 1.2 per cent in the first round of the elections, and Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB, the party of urban elites and the middle-classes, got 4.8 per cent of the votes.
The PMDB and the PSDB have never been mass parties with a fixed ideology, but rather, elite formations that moulded their ideology from left to right and back again, and all the while exercising a staunch right-wing agenda in practice. Thus, Bolsonaro was able to replace the traditional right by being a member of a nano-sized party, the Partido Social Liberal (PSL), that he had joined only on January 5, 2018.
The PT defended its position as the main opposition party, and as the biggest party bloc in parliament, despite fierce anti-PT propaganda from Bolsonaro and from all other opposition parties. The strongholds of the PT are the regional states in the poor Northeast, where Haddad obtained victories in both rounds and where regional governors from left-wing parties were elected.
Corruption, Crime, Family Values
One basis for the success of Bolsonaro was the anti-corruption movement that had swept the country with massive demonstrations in 2015 and 2016 and which formed the popular basis for the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016.