The second round of the Brazilian presidential election on the 28th of October 2018 is likely to be between Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party and Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party. This is an unexpected result and not the choice that many Brazilians would have wished for.
The two most important figures in the second round are Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate, and Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a centre-left candidate. Bolsonaro is a former Army Captain and veteran Federal Congressman who spent weeks in hospital after being stabbed during a campaign rally in August, while Lula is a founder of the Workers’ Party and former President who is in prison after being convicted on corruption charges. Lula anointed Haddad as his successor when his own candidacy for the presidency was ruled ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court.
While this election has been described as a choice between two extremes, there is only one extremist – Bolsonaro – in the second round. Nevertheless, the election is likely to be close, and the administrations of both candidates would face problems in governing.
Fernando Haddad has a master’s in economics and a PhD in philosophy from the University of São Paulo, and has served as Minister of Education from 2005 to 2012 (in the Lula and Dilma Rousseff administrations [2003 to 2010 and 2011 to 2016 respectively]) and Mayor of São Paulo from 2013 to 2017. He is an articulate fiscal conservative and moderate who is close to many figures in the centre-right Social Democracy Party. His vice-presidential running mate is Manuela D’Ávila of the Communist Party of Brazil. Almost thirty percent of the electorate will not vote for Haddad under any circumstances because of his political party.
Many voters have negative views of the Workers’ Party, views that have been stoked up by the rising ideological right in the streets and in electoral campaigns, and they also associate the Workers’ Party with corruption and economic mismanagement. The corruption was unearthed by the Carwash investigation, organized by the Federal Police, Federal judiciary, Federal prosecutors and tax authorities which began in March 2014. Carwash revealed evidence of a large-scale kickback scheme involving contractors, Petrobras, the partially state-owned oil company, and political parties. Although all the major parties were involved, the Workers’ Party was pilloried in the press for being particularly responsible, having held the presidency for 13 years between 2003 and 2016. The party was also blamed for increasing the Federal budget deficit under President Dilma Rousseff, in part due to the granting of tax breaks to various industries, and for the economic recession of 2015-16.
Haddad has not been clear about how he would avoid these past mistakes of the Workers’ Party if he became president and some will see his election as a vindication of his political mentor Lula and a rejection of the impeachment of Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, in 2016. While Haddad has said that he would not pardon Lula, his party could see Haddad’s election as an opportunity to settle political scores and would have strong views about how to govern and staff the various Federal ministries that would come under its control. The party currently has nine of 81 Senate seats, 61 of 513 lower house seats and five of 27 state governorships. Haddad would probably attempt to govern with a broad multi-party coalition of the kind forged by Lula when he was president. However, there is a risk that right-wing movements would not accept his presidency, in the same way that they did not accept the re-election of Dilma Rousseff in 2014, and would organize protests against his government in major cities as well as acts of impeachment against Haddad in the lower house of Congress.
A Bolsonaro presidency is more of an unknown quantity. Before 2018 right-wing parties in Brazil’s presidential elections were known for their pragmatism and focus on the politics of patronage. Bolsonaro represents the rise of an ideological right that emphasizes God and evangelical Christianity, the traditional family and patriarchy, gun ownership, property rights, and liberal economic policies. Two big reasons that Bolsonaro followers cite for their support of him are the idea that Bolsonaro would end “politics as usual” and offer a hardline approach to the problem of crime and violence (last year Brazil’s homicide rate reached 30 per 100,000 for the first time). Like President Donald Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro and his followers also decry the “fake news” of the mainstream media and rely heavily on social media to spread their message. Bolsonaro has also said that Brazil’s electronic voting system is subject to fraud, paving the way for him to denounce a second-round result that goes against him as a “fixed” election.
Paulo Guedes, Bolsonaro’s economic advisor, is a University of Chicago-trained economist who wants to privatize as many state-owned enterprises as possible and favours a flat tax, something that would make Brazil’s already-regressive tax system, in which half of all revenue comes from taxes on consumption and in which tax rates on wealth and high incomes is low, even more regressive. Bolsonaro’s vice-presidential running mate is a retired general, Antônio Hamilton Mourão, who has said that if Brazil became chaotic the military would have to close Congress and restore “order”. Both Bolsonaro and Mourão seem to be nostalgic about the military dictatorship of 1964-85. In addition, Bolsonaro, like President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, has suggested that the police should kill criminal suspects. He would also like to water down environmental protections in order to accelerate the building of infrastructure projects, and he is against gay rights as well as affirmative action for Afro-Brazilians and indigenous students in Brazilian universities. Bolsonaro seems to believe that the idea of gender equality is Communist propaganda, and on Saturday the 29th of September tens of thousands of women protested against his candidacy on the streets of Brazil’s major cities. Bolsonaro’s rejection rate is about 44 percent, and is higher among women than men.
Bolsonaro has said that the candidate he would prefer to face in the second round is Fernando Haddad. This is because Haddad allows Bolsonaro to fire up the anti-leftist rhetoric that has propelled him to the front rank of the race. Bolsonaro will try to tack to the centre between the first and second rounds, diluting his message of change and intransigence with reassurances that he would be a safe pair of hands as far as the political establishment is concerned. However, his party is tiny, with no Senators or state governors and only 9 of 513 seats in the lower house. It is not clear how Bolsonaro, who has no executive experience and little knowledge of public policy, would create a functioning majority in Congress or an effective government. Haddad will also try to tack to the centre, trying to reassure voters antipathetic to the Workers’ Party that he would rule in a broad coalition in a fiscally responsible way and is the only choice for those who want to stop Bolsonaro.
The Harvard political scientist Steve Levitsky argues persuasively that Bolsonaro represents a threat to Brazilian democracy. He argues that Bolsonaro’s authoritarian rhetoric is an accurate guide to how he would rule, that he is not too incompetent to threaten democracy, and that he won’t be effectively controlled by liberal democrats in other branches of the government, such as the Congress and Supreme Court. The result in the second-round run-off on the 28th is likely to be very close and is hard to call. It will be the most important and consequential election in the history of Brazil’s new democracy, which is only thirty years old.