Anti-fascist Brazilians expressed horror late Sunday as they watched the misogynist, racist former military officer Jair Bolsonaro advance toward a likely victory in the country's presidential race, days after hundreds of thousands of women and allies protested his extremist agenda.
Shocking journalists and poll-takers by unexpectedly winning 46 percent of the vote in the general election's first round, Bolsonaro now heads to a run-off scheduled for October 28. He will face former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of the Worker's Party (PT), who garnered just over 29 percent of the vote.
It's hard to overstate the magnitude of the far-right wave that engulfed all of Brazil last night. But even more amazing is how far off the polls were. On the left: the last poll for Rio Governor race, showing the Bolsonaro candidate with 17%; on the right, he ended with 41%: pic.twitter.com/D1Aw9qdVbJ
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 8, 2018
The election results stoked fears that under Bolsonaro's Social Liberal Party (PSL), Brazilians could soon be living under a military dictatorship like the ones that ruled the country for large portions of the 20th century—and which Bolsonaro has reminisced about during his campaign.
Lots of people in Brazil who never thought it would happen to them are going to spend the next 3 weeks as PT/Workers' Party supporters (petistas). But it's not about PT. It's about stopping a genuine fascist from taking over a democracy with no structural or political limits. pic.twitter.com/Ic4T2Y9KNl
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 8, 2018
The danger of a fascist takeover is especially plausible because the country lacks strong institutions that could keep Bolsonaro's power in check, as Brazil-based journalist Glenn Greenwald explained on Democracy Now! last week.
"You really don't have institutions the way you do in the U.S., like a strong Supreme Court or a kind of deep state of the CIA and the FBI or political parties that would constrain him in what he wants to do," Greenwald said. "And especially given how much popular support there now is behind him, there's a substantial part of the country that is genuinely terrified about what he intends to do, and intends to do rather quickly, and probably can do—namely, bringing back the worst abuses of the kinds of dictatorships that summarily executed dissidents, that shut down media outlets, that closed congresses, that we thought was a thing of the past here in Latin America but is now on the verge of returning to its most important and largest country."
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In addition to defending torture, endorsing unequal pay for women, and claiming he would rather learn that his son was killed in a car accident than that he was gay, Bolsonaro has advocated for the kind of deadly law enforcement favored by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte—who has authorized police and the military to indiscriminately kill anyone suspected of dealing drugs. He has also called to loosen gun restrictions in Brazil and vehemently opposes abortion rights.
Women across the country and around the world have protested Bolsonaro's campaign in recent weeks, with about four million of them joining the Facebook group Women United Against Bolsonaro and hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating on September 28, many carrying banners that read, "Ele Não," or "Not Him."
For many, according to an editorial in the Guardian written by Brazilian journalist Elaine Brum, Bolsonaro's rise to prominence is the result of disenchantment with the PT, which reduced poverty but became mired in corruption in recent years.
"In the cities," Brum wrote, "he has the support of the leaders of evangelical religious empires, who defend the concept that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman. The far-right candidate also leads among wealthier, more educated men, reflecting the calibre of the Brazilian elites. In addition to his staunch supporters, he attracts a slice of the population that is simply anti-PT."
Should Bolsonaro win the October 28 run-off, Brazil will become the latest major economic power to fall into the hands of a right-wing, populist strongman leader, following similar victories in Europe, largely thanks to growing anti-immigrant sentiment there.
If Jair Bolsonaro becomes president of Brazil he will join a global club of strongman leaders that includes Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China — and of course Donald Trump in the US. https://t.co/7Z9Cf9gW9y
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) October 8, 2018
While Americans are rallying against disgustingly bigoted and misogynistic political leadership, Brazil is experiencing what we did on Nov. 9, 2016. The Far-Right has been doing damage globally for some time, so we can’t think this is just about us. https://t.co/qmLLXCzeiC
— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) October 7, 2018