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Brazil Lurches Toward Fascism

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.” 

In recent weeks that slogan has been the rallying cry against the presidential campaign of Jair Bolsonaro, a man so ubiquitous, so alternately loved and loathed, that the ‘him’ doesn’t need to be specified. Bolsonaro is openly and proudly homophobic, racist, misogynistic and undemocratic. But as the campaigners made their way down Rua Joaquim Silva to watch the results come in on a big outdoor screen, past technicolor murals, the waft of cannabis smoke and the kids playing football in the street, the singing died out. They knew they were doomed. Everybody was expecting bad news, the only question was how bad.
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.
Haddad is the former mayor of Sao Paulo and a candidate of the left-leaning party Workers' Party (or PT), but he’s little more than a surrogate for the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is in jail on corruption charges. On the eve of the election even his own party’s official tweets focused on Lula, not Haddad. The bigger problem is that PT are widely seen here in Brazil as not just corrupt, but corrupt in an unprecedentedly widespread and efficient way. They were in power too long, and have become too good at it. More than one Brazilian has told me that while they also expect Bolsonaro to be corrupt, they think he’ll be more incompetent about it. These days, less competent corruption is something to wish for.

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.”
Bolsanaro has sold himself as a ‘strong man’, and like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines you could easily picture him bragging about personally killing drug dealers himself. Last year, there were 63,880 murders in Brazil, easily the most of any country in the world. Yesterday, videos went viral on Brazilian social media of Bolsanaro supporters using guns to push the buttons which cast their vote. It is hard to imagine the man who has made ‘finger guns’ his personal signature presiding over a descalation of the country’s running gun battles.These are dangerous, violent times and Bolsanaro is a dangerous, violent man. His now seemingly inevitable victory is bad news if you’re a Brazilian who is gay, black, poor, a woman, or God help you all of the above.
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.

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