At 5 pm on Sunday, the same time polls closed across Brazil, a song broke out at the foot of Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous Selaron Steps. A coalition of anti-fascist campaigners had gathered there, waving flags and singing: “Ele não”, which translates to, “Not him.”
Brazil’s presidential elections use a two-part system. There were 13 candidates on the ballot this weekend, of which the leading two would go through to the second round in three weeks time, on October 28. That is, unless frontrunner Bolsonaro managed to gain over 50 percent of the vote in the first round, in which case he’d simply win outright. The mood as the results started to trickle in from around the country was something like a wake, or like watching a football match when losing is the only possible outcome—presumably an unfamiliar feeling for Brazilians. In this context, the fact that the exit polls suggested there would be a second round at all was celebrated like a goal, but only a consolation goal. By the end of night Bolsonaro, who had at one point sat on 49 percent, ended up with 46 percent of the vote. That means Brazilians will go back to the polls again in three weeks time. It also means that in order to stop him, almost every single person who didn’t vote for Bolsonaro this time around will have to switch their vote to his nearest rival Fernando Haddad—and that seems like wishful thinking.
The mood as the results started to trickle in from around the country was something like a wake, or like watching a football match when losing is the only possible outcome.
It is usually a tremendous advantage when trying to understand another country’s politics to be the guest of a native. It helps you live close to the ground and experience the place from as close to local as you’re likely to get, yet the young and the beautiful of Ipanema and Copacabana seem at a loss to explain Bolsanaro’s rise. Some say it’s a reaction to what’s seen as ‘too progressive’ views on issues such as LGBTQ rights, a sad lurch back in the opposite direction.
Others point to the economy: Brazil is currently coming out of the worst recession in its history, and with soaring unemployment people want change above all. They want to shake things up. Bolsanaro’s politics mean that he’s often compared to Donald Trump, yet this can me a misleading comparison. His support comes more from wealthy urban populations than from the working classes, and he’s no outsider. He’s been part of the legislature for 28 years, and all four his sons are also in office. By contrast, his one daughter is never seen in public. He once told a crowd that he fathered his daughter “in a moment of weakness,” and has also said that if any one of his sons turned out to be gay “it would be better for him to die in an accident.”
Just before 9 pm, the campaigners switched off the results on the big screen, and a band started to play in their place. The samba echoed off the walls, but there were tears in the crowd.