Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro; a nationalistic populist, falls to the far-right political alignment with a conservative ideology. His political agenda focuses on the growth of businesses, fighting crime and violence, and restoring Brazil to a more conservative society of traditional family values. Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan: “Brazil above all; God above everyone,” echoes a similar, nationalistic message of the “Make America Great Again” or “America First” slogans used by his political ally, US President Donald Trump. Bolsonaro’s first year in office has been marked with controversial rhetoric, a handful of legislation, and further polarization of Brazil’s population. Bolsonaro has experienced a steady decline in his approval rating since his inauguration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his approval rating has declined even further, even though leaders typically experience an increase in favorability during crises. Not to mention that his administration has had to replace several ministers over the course of the first year as they either resigned or were fired for disagreeing with the President. All in all, Brazil’s political climate has undergone immense challenges and changes with the Bolsonaro administration.

A Conservative Chamber & Congress

In his 2018 election, a growing conservative base was largely stoked by Bolsonaro’s populist rhetoric and outsider appeal which ultimately helped win him the election; similar to the 2016 American Presidential election. Bolsonaro ultimately won the runoff election against Fernando Haddad with 55% of the vote; securing the Presidency as an affiliate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL). Out of the 513 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the PSL gained 44 seats in the 2018 election; giving them a total of 52 seats and making them the second largest party in the Chamber of Deputies. Opposingly, Fernando Haddad represented the Workers Party, who lost 13 seats in 2018; narrowing the margin between them and PSL in terms of seats. Nevertheless, the Workers Party still has the most seats with 56.

The Brazilian Senate; made up of 81 seats, saw less fluctuation in the 2018 election. PSL was able to gain representation in the Senate by snagging four seats; most major parties in the senate have around four seats. Fortunately for Bolsonaro, the Brazilian Congress is the most conservative it has been since the nation’s re-democratization in the 1980s. This reality has encouraged him to introduce legislation he finds favorable. For example, this conservative majority was a major driver behind the passing of the Pension Reform Act. 

A Constituency mobilized by change

Bolsonaro’s electoral success is in large part due to the promises he made for change in a system seen as untrustworthy, corrupt, and broken. His appeal as a self-proclaimed political outsider made people from every walk of life more comfortable with electing him, despite his controversial rhetoric. Those in the increasingly powerful evangelical church threw their support behind Bolsonaro for his tough stances on abortion and defense of traditional family values. Business executives and the upper-middle class of Brazil supported him for his promises to prioritize business growth and put Brazil first. Those a part of the poorer classes of Brazil were drawn to his promise of decreasing crime and violence. Conclusively, Bolsonaro’s rhetoric; which is seen as inappropriate and abrasive by the international community, was actually quite motivating for voters, journalists, and other politicians. His 2018 election was unprecedented in Brazil due to the level of aggression from both candidates. This tension between the candidates led many voters to feel the need to take to the streets during the 2018 campaign and express support for Bolsonaro– the candidate they felt represented the most change. 

Interestingly, months before Bolsonaro was elected, he was stabbed in the stomach at a campaign rally in the state of Minas Gerais. The 63-year-old, then-representative was forced to leave the campaign trail and continue campaigning online from home while he recovered. Many believe that, while this was not a determining factor in any way, Bolsonaro being attacked on the street mobilized his supporters even more on election day. People called the incident, ‘stabbing democracy.’ Bolsonaro has used the stabbing incident as a health excuse to not participate in debates or public forums.     

A Contentious First Year

Bolsonaro’s first year in office has been marred by public fights and disputes, both at home and abroad. French President Emmanuel Macron was one of many who criticized Bolsonaro for his response to the 2019 Amazon fires; leading Bolsonaro to call Macron’s wife ugly. Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg commented on the death of many indigenous people in the Amazon as a result of the fires. Bolsonaro responded by calling her a ‘brat.’ Michelle Bachelet; former Chilean President and current UN Human Rights Commissioner, called out Bolsonaro for the increase in police killings since his election. In response, Bolsonaro praised the Chilean dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s which tortured Bachelet’s father and imprisoned her as a young child. 

It is evident from these exchanges that Bolsonaro does not take criticism well. He uses very informal, aggressive, and rude language to defend his actions (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, these instances not only occur in his small-scale interactions but have also led Bolsonaro to damage international alliances due to his abrasive words (see Relations with China). 

At the domestic level, Bolsonaro has used unsavory language to attack opponents, journalists, and even his own appointed cabinet. He has told many reporters to ‘shut-up’ as well as once told a press official he looked ‘rather homosexual.’ This comes with his constant discrediting of the press. In fact, Brazil has one of the worst figures for journalist deaths, ranking ninth in 2019 on the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index with 15 unsolved killings of journalists. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro’s election has coincided with an increase in cases of aggression against journalists.

Bolsonaro is a frequent user of the phrase “Fake News.” This term is used to discredit the media, especially the media that is not favorable to Bolsonaro or broadcasts something that hurts his image. Bolsonaro, among many other populist leaders, believes that the truth is whatever he says it is. Several press agencies have boycotted reporting outside the Presidential Palace due to Bolsonaro verbal attacks on the press. An ally of Bolsonaro, Bishop Edir Macedo, has doubled down on Bolsonaro’s tactic of press discreditation. He owns ‘Record TV,’ a media outlet that condemns other mass media outlets and tends to praise Bolsonaro in its publications. 

“We are experiencing media hell”

Bishop Edir Macedo

Macedo is a famous Bishop in Brazil and is a leader at the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. He anointed Bolsonaro and claimed Bolsonaro’s election was a “choice of God.” ‘Record Media’ is widely regarded as fringe media, a telling fact about the kind of press organizations that support Bolsonaro.