Image: REUTERS/Adriano Machado
FAR-RIGHT POLITICIAN, Jair Bolsonaro, has been sworn in as Brazilian president after a campaign filled with controversy and an election which dramatically divided the nation. The former army captain has already signed a decree relaxing gun laws, which he claims will reduce Brazil’s widespread violence, rampant street crime and high levels of homicide. He has also voiced his intentions to weaken legislation protecting the Amazon rainforest and his new environment minister has dismissed climate change as a “secondary issue”. Ridding the country of its persistent economic difficulties is another major promise, though much of his inauguration speech boasted of “conserving values” and promoting national unity and freedom.
Bolsonaro, who heads the anti-establishment Social Liberal Party (£L), attracted 55.2 per cent of the vote in the second round of the election on 28 October. The comfortable victory over opponent Fernando Haddad, whose Socialist Worker’s Party had governed Brazil since 2002, represents a sharp swing to the right. Pledging to crack down on the corruption which has poisoned mainstream Brazilian politics, Bolsanaro succeeded in harnessing the frustration directed at the opposing party following a wave of scandals. “Operation Car Wash”, an ongoing investigation into a money laundering scheme in which by two former Worker’s Party presidents, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silvaandand Dilma Rousseff, were allegedly involved, has upended the reputation of the party and disillusioned voters. With his military past and image as an “outsider” seeming to bolster his credibility, Bolsanaro’s policy proposals bear a certain re-semblance to those of his American counterpart and have earnt him the nickname “Trump of the Tropics”. The incumbent US President has already congratulated Bolsanaro’s “great inauguration speech” and assured him of the support of the USA. Despite previous approving noises with regard to Brazil’s dicta-torship, which ended in 1985, BolSonaro was quick to emphasise his intention to respect his country’s constitution. Retaining the position of free market advocacy he inherited from his party, he has nonetheless drastically altered the previously socially liberal standpoint of the £L. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric has showcased a blatant hatred of the LGBTQ+ community; unashamed misogyny, including a tolerance for rape culture; and unapologetic racism, which have enraged his many critics and shocked large parts of a socially tolerant nation.
What is next for this rapidly changing country? A country that successfully hosted the Summer Olympic Games just two and a half years ago the first country in South America to do so. Postgraduate politics student, Gabriel Cardoso, from Brazil gave us his reaction: “I see three possible scenarios for Bolsonaro’s government. Firstly, he could focus on reform and work with other par-ties to o v e r c o m e Brazil’s economic crisis, which hit us hard in 2014. Secondly, he may make the government more authoritarian, by r e d u c i n g t h e autonomy of Brazil’s judiciary and legislative institutions. The last possibility is that the political op-position will be too great for him to implement his policies, and perhaps even make him unable to complete his term. In every case, it is likely that he will strengthen police numbers and also counteract social movements that are against him.”
In a U-turn that will please conservationists, it appears that Bolsonaro will not go through with his plans to merge the agriculture and environment department, though the latter has already suffered cuts. The casual flavour of the debate surrounding three-fifths of the world’s largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest within Brazil’s borders is a clear signal to the world that Bolsanaro’s policies are likely to accelerate, rather than slow climate change. The promising rise of the world’s sixth most populous nation is falling into jeopardy. Bolsonaro’s first challenge will be reconciling the divisions that he helped create.For such a controversial figure, the centrepiece of his campaign and exploited polarisation as a magnet for media attention, the national unity he advocated upon his inauguration seems unlikely to be easily achievable any time soon.