Bolsonaro or Lula De Silva: How will Brazil choose the best of a bad bunch?

As featured in Edition 39, available here.


BY LIM SHU YU (1st year - Philosophy, Politics, and Economics - Singapore)

In Brazil’s upcoming elections, on October 2nd, 2022, Bolsonaro faces steep competition from former President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It’s expected that Bolsonaro’s government will try to boost social spending to attract voters, however spectators question if social spending is what Brazil wants. Will that be sufficient to hide the failures of Bolsonaro’s government, or will Brazilians be tricked by Bolsonaro’s rose-tinted lenses?


Bolsonaro has a centralised and unified base of political supporters that solidify his mandate to rule. Bolsonaro’s tiny Alliance for Brazil has teamed up with the centrão, a big bloc of centre-right parties. This is an alliance that helps Bolsonaro maintain unchecked power in Congress, and at the same time provides centrão politicians with desirable government jobs. This helps the government pass legislation and shields Bolsonaro from impeachment. Effectively, Bolsonaro has created an impenetrable fortress around his position that prevents anyone from eroding his mandate to rule. This also prevents checks and balances from other parties to call out Bolsonaro’s unsound fiscal and monetary policies. Internal support is essential for Bolsonaro to pass legislation that aids him in reelection. Bolsonaro will do anything that will guarantee his success in the 2022 elections. The measures are there mainly for public appeal - but may not be financially or politically sound.


Brazil’s erosion of democracy makes internal checks and balances evermore important. Since taking office, Bolsonaro has joined demonstrators calling for military intervention in Brazil’s politics and the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court. He’s also promoted the large-scale militarisation of his government, and systematically undermined public trust in the country’s voting system. With unrestrained power and abilities to discredit, disclaim and direct all of Brazil’s resources, Bolsonaro may hasten Brazil’s progress towards authoritarianism, eventually bypassing elections altogether.


However, there might not be enough time for Bolsonaro to achieve such an ambitious objective. Authoritarianism is often opportunistic and takes many years to take root.


Brazil is currently stuck in the limbo of pseudo-representative democracy. Even if Bolsonaro has secured an internal base of supporters, he needs the electorate’s support, however his inability to kickstart the economy has contributed to his unpopularity. Whilst his COVID welfare payouts to poor voters were generous, it also showcases his underlying intentions of boosting political popularity. Short-term relief might provide a once-off stimulus for the poor, but does nothing for their future. Brazil’s crippling debts have been rising to a record high of almost 100% of its GDP - a figure that will only continue escalating to frightening amounts. Bolsonaro currently walks on a tightrope between balancing long-term economic security and short-term political popularity. If he spends more on social services, this increases national debt, resulting in a hike in interest rates, causing things to become more costly. Yet, taxes are politically fraught, especially as Brazil desperately needs to provide incentives for private investment. This is the conundrum of the century that plagues Bolsonaro – and any politicians participating in the upcoming elections.


Bolsonaro faces strong competition from Lula De Silva. Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva is considering ex-rival Geraldo Alckmin as a centrist running mate for the 2022 elections. This is a ‘unity’ ticket for a divided country and could ease some resistance from Brazil’s business community, which has grown disillusioned with President Bolsonaro but still distrusts Lula’s Workers Party and its social policies. Geraldo Alckmin could be the bridging factor for Lula and the disenchanted populace. He’s expressed keen interest in running alongside Lula and could potentially be his winning ticket.


However, Lula may not be the silver lining that Brazil needs. Even though he currently leads the polls, his rejection rates remain around 40%. Supporters highlight Lula’s policies and increased investment in social programs that helped lift millions out of poverty, while critics accuse him of overseeing rampant corruption. Prosecutors have uncovered scandals that ran through the heart of government during the 13 years his party was in power. Lula was jailed on bribery charges, but this was annulled by the Supreme Court. He has always denied any wrongdoings and said the charges were politically motivated. Brazil has long been plagued with corruption; even Bolsonaro, who once championed a corruption-free Brazil, is now embroiled in an ugly mess of scandals concerning his politician sons. Could this be a sign that Brazil can no longer change to progress towards a corruption-free country?


Without an upheaval of the current socio-economic environment and a president that isn't solely focused on perpetuating his agenda, it will be near impossible for Brazil to progress.



Image: Unsplash (Maria Fernanda Pissioli)