Why So Many Brazilians Support the Far-Right Candidate

I neither support nor condone many of Jair Bolsonaro’s views, especially those related to homosexuals, people of color, minorities, and women. I believe that Brazil’s ethnic diversity and national pride in its rich cultural heritage define us as a nation. I also believe, however,  that over the past few years it has become a completely different country. After moving to Rio de Janeiro in 2013, I witnessed first-hand the rapid decline in Brazil’s economy. Facing its longest recession in history, the economy suffered eight consecutive quarters of shrinkage. The combination of economic decline, a fearful spike in crime -- with a record-high homicide count of 63,880 people in 2017 -- and corrupt politicians makes it safe to say that Brazil is in a crisis. For these reasons, Brazilian citizens are looking for a last resort, someone to change the country’s course. Many, including myself, believe that right-wing populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro is our only hope.

On October 7, Brazilians voted for the President, Vice President, and National Congress. The runoff election between Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad will take place on October 28. (Voting is mandatory for those between ages 18 and 70, and citizens 16 and older are eligible.) Bolsonaro received 46.43 percent of the vote, less than 4 percent short of avoiding a runoff election; his opponent Haddad received 28.7 percent. Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party (PT), joined the race only one month ago after the party denied former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, serving a twelve-year prison sentence on corruption charges, a candidacy.

The Workers’ Party (with a coalition) governed Brazil from January 2003 until then-President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in August of 2016. Rousseff remains accused of taking unapproved loans from public banks and transferring those funds to the government treasury. Her impeachment came soon after two giant corruption scandals were uncovered by Operation Car Wash. The investigation, involving state oil company Petrobras and construction giant Odebrecht, revealed about two billion dollars in bribes involving more than 80 politicians and members of the business elite.

Brazilians are outraged by the political and economic state their country is now in: the government enjoys a mere 8 percent approval rating, and only 26 percent believe that Brazil’s politics will become more honest. This is how Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), has found his political moment.

Bolsonaro is infamous for expressing racist, sexist, and homophobic beliefs, and he proposes controversial right-wing policies. He is calling for greater civilian access to guns, to allow more people to protect themselves from the constant crime; he also wants to give police officers more freedom to shoot on sight. Moreover, he plans to cut the cabinet to fifteen ministers in order to reduce government spending, since an estimated two-thirds of government revenue goes to current and former government workers’ earnings and pensions.

In his first public remarks during the campaign, he also declared that he intended to either privatize or shut down several state companies. It is important to note, as well, that he is the only candidate who has not been implicated in or accused of corruption. He has chosen former army general Hamilton Mourão as his running mate.

With all the difficulties that some of Bolsonaro’s views present, the country’s current political climate has led many people to support the controversial candidate anyway. What Brazilians are most looking for in our next president is the quality of honesty, and Bolsonaro represents that characteristic, whether through his outspoken opinions or his clean financial track. Many believe this election will truly decide the outcome of Brazil’s current crisis, and only time will tell whether it will be for better or worse.