Irish Times view on Brazil’s presidency: Jair Bolsonaro’s race to lose

Rise of far-right candidate a damning indictment of political establishment

Brazil’s right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party  Jair Bolsonaro  next to his son and senate candidate Flavio upon arrival at Villa Militar to vote during general elections, in Rio de Janeiro last weekend. Photograph: Fernando Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil’s right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party Jair Bolsonaro next to his son and senate candidate Flavio upon arrival at Villa Militar to vote during general elections, in Rio de Janeiro last weekend. Photograph: Fernando Souza/AFP/Getty Images

 

With more than two weeks to go in a campaign that has already proved wildly unpredictable, it is too soon to call Brazil’s most unsettling presidential contest since the return of democracy in the 1980s. But after a conservative wave swept across the South American nation in Sunday’s first round of voting, it is now far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s race to lose.

The former army captain will carry an advantage of almost 18 million votes into a run-off against the Workers Party’s Fernando Haddad on October 28th. Already much of Brazil’s political class is repositioning itself around the assumption he will assume command of the world’s fourth largest democracy on January 1st.

That a fringe outsider like Bolsonaro, lacking any experience for the job, notorious for his misogyny, racism and homophobia, not to mention scorn for democratic norms, has already come so close to the presidency is a damning indictment of Brazil’s political establishment.

Millions of voters appear willing to overlook deeply troubling aspects of his character because he promises a break with the corruption of politicians who have run the state for the last quarter century. In recent years these have given the appearance of being more concerned with avoiding jail than tackling the social crisis provoked by mass unemployment and a breakdown in public security that, in absolute numbers, makes Brazil the world’s murder capital.

The Workers Party is now belatedly trying to halt Bolsonaro by rallying a democratic coalition around Haddad. But such efforts will be greeted with cynicism by many so long as the party continues to insist its leader, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – currently serving a 12-year sentence for corruption – is a political prisoner, and by other ideologically driven positions such as its refusal to condemn the calamitous dictatorship in neighbouring Venezuela.

Haddad has started to pivot towards the centre but this move has so far been tepid and thus unlikely to win over enough of the centrist voters he will need to succeed.

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