When Brazilians go to the polls in Sunday’s general election they have the chance to correct the mistake they made four years ago, when they catapulted the obscure far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro into the presidency. During nearly four years in office the former army captain has shown himself to be a toxic mix of cruelty and incompetence.
His malevolent nature is perhaps best illustrated by his attempt at the height of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of almost 700,000 Brazilians to associate Covid vaccines with AIDS. His misogyny and homophobia, not to mention racism in one of the world’s most mixed-race societies, have damaged the public administration of Latin America’s biggest country, reversing decades of hard-won social advances. Under cover of official negligence the most irresponsible and often criminal elements of Brazil’s agricultural and mining sectors have been given license to pillage the environment, with global implications for the fight against climate change.
The true spirit of “bolsonarismo” is the will of the strongest triumphing over the rule of laws which are in place to protect the vulnerable. The latest example of this disregard for rules can be seen in the president’s preparations to challenge the election result. Having claimed to speak in the name of “the people” against the country’s institutions, he is working assiduously to throw Brazil’s highly regarded voting system into chaos if, as every poll predicts, the people now reject him.
The best defence against an attempt to steal the election would be for voters to hand the frontrunner, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, outright victory on Sunday, thus avoiding the need for a run-off round. Another four weeks of campaigning would be highly fraught. The European Union should also make clear to Brazil’s military, which the president is seeking to recruit for his authoritarian adventure, that the country faces isolation should the democratic will of the people be thwarted. For all its shortcomings the world’s fifth-largest democracy deserves to outlive the failed Bolsonaro experiment.