By Isaac Risco (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Brazil faces its most uncertain elections since it regained democracy in 1985. In a tense climate due to the rise of the ultra-right hand of former military Jair Bolsonaro and punished by the ravages caused by corruption scandals and the economic crisis of recent years, the Latin American power elects its next president today.
The electoral campaign had ended with a huge polarization between Bolsonaro and leftist candidate Fernando Haddad.
Bolsonaro, described as the “Brazilian Donald Trump” and feared for his aggressive speech against the country’s institutions, led the polls on the eve of the elections and has virtually assured his passage to the second round, scheduled for October 28.
According to the polls, his last hurdle to reach the presidency of the largest country in Latin America would be Haddad, heir to the popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), but also burdened by the corruption scandals of his Workers Party (PT).
Due to the momentum of Bolsonaro’s candidacy in the final days of the campaign, some analysts see a first-round triumph on Sunday as feasible.
In recent days, the far right received the support of a large number of the economic elites and the influential evangelical churches. “It is still very early, but it is possible that the decision comes in the first round,” Antonio Flavio Testa, political scientist at the University of Brasilia, who is close to the Bolsonaro campaign, told the dpa agency.
The 63-year-old former military man reached up to 35 percent of the support in recent polls, while Haddad, 55, reached 22 percent.
Far behind and almost without possibilities, according to the polls, are the leftist Ciro Gomes (11 percent), the center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin (8 percent) and the environmentalis Marina Silva (4 percent).
The rise of Bolsonaro, criticized for his defense of the last military dictatorship (1964-1985) and his frequent racist, misogynist and homophobic diatribes, represents already a profound change for democracy that Brazil recovered only 33 years ago.
“At no time since the democracy returned have we had a strong extreme right in the presidential dispute,” warns the political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) Mauricio Santoro regarding the Bolsonaro boom.
“I see it as a risk to democracy,” Santoro told dpa. “He is a professional politician who adopted a discourse against minorities.”
The political tension of recent weeks led to an attack against Bolsonaro in early September, when a man stabbed the candidate with a knife in the abdomen claiming to be “threatened” by his political messages.
Bolsonaro was almost a month interned in the hospital and did not participate in the final stretch of the campaign. His absence, however, did not affect his candidacy, which he managed to maintain as the favorite thanks to his strong presence in social networks.
The huge corruption scandal “Lava Jato”, which has put in check virtually all the political class since 2014, fueled the fed up of Brazilians and the discredit of democracy. “Lava Jato” put behind bars the previously untouchable Lula, architect of the Brazilian “economic miracle” in the past decade, and dozens of businessmen and politicians.
To this is added the institutional deterioration initiated with the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, when the country sank into one of the worst recessions in its history.
The crisis, after a decade in which Brazil seemed to emerge definitively as a new global economic power, has left deep wounds in the South American giant.
Violence soared across the country, particularly in tourist cities like Rio de Janeiro, under military intervention since February due to a wave of crime.
None of the 13 candidates competing in these elections channeled the frustration and anger of voters as well as Bolsonaro. Despite being a legislator since 1991, the former military man is defined as “anti-system” and lashes out at political elites.
“Bolsonaro is the country’s salvation, because he is not corrupt,” student Mayara Ferrari, 25, told dpa during a recent rally of Bolsonaro’s party, the PSL, in Nova Iguaçu on the outskirts of Rio. “The accusations that he is racist, homophobic are all lies.”
Meanwhile, left leaning voters fear an authoritarian drift with Bolsonaro. “A guy who defends weapons is the return to dictatorship,” believes Marcio Oliveira, a 55-year-old public employee during a rally in favor of Haddad in Cinelandia, in downtown Rio. “And the people don’t have the money to buy food,” regretted the fervent follower of Lula.
“If there was a second round between Bolsonaro and Haddad we will have a very scary scenario in Brazil, a lot of anger,” Santoro predicted, pointing to the polarization between left and right.
“Half of the population will believe that the other half will end democracy in Brazil,” said the expert, who also sees obstacles for electoral alliances for the second round.
“The hatred between the right and the left in Brazil is very great, especially during the last two years since the ‘impeachment,” he noted.
More than 147 million Brazilians are called to the polls today October 7th. In the “mega-election”, citizens are also voting for 513 deputies, 53 senators, 27 governors and several other regional offices.