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October 12, 2018

Brazil’s right

Opinion

October 12, 2018

Jair Bolsonaro, a neo-conservative, rightwing populist, misogynistic and homophobic congressman just missed an outright victory in the first round of the Brazilian presidential elections.

Bolsonaro got 46 percent of the votes, while the Workers Party candidate Haddad came distant second with 29.3 percent votes. A run-off – close contest, by all indications – will take place between the two on October 28.

But Bolsonaro has the advantage at the moment and Haddad is still trailing behind. Neo-liberalism and pro-free market forces are the real winners of the first round. This is clearly a triumph for rightwing forces, and Bolsonaro’s victory in the second round would be a victory of reaction.

Bolsonaro emerged from nowhere to become the top contender within a few weeks. The main parties in Brazil failed to stop his rise in such a short period of time. There is a real possibility that he might just win the presidential election in the second round and become president of the regional powerhouse that is Brazil.

For years now, Brazil has been showcased as a successful model of neoliberal, free-market economic development and liberal democracy by the neoliberal academia, international financial institutions and experts. Brazil is a leading emerging economy and market. It is also part of the exclusive club of BRICS alongside with Russia, India, South Africa and China, and has made big strides in both democracy and economy in last three decades. However, both are at risk at the moment.

Brazil has been embroiled in a socio-economic crisis since the collapse of commodity prices in 2014, and its economy hasn’t really come out of the crisis since then. The recent election took place at a time when there has been an intense struggle going on between the rightwing section of the ruling class and the moderate one.

The rightwing section of the ruling elite wants to transfer the burden of the country’s economic crisis onto the working people and the poor. This section wants to impose massive social spending cuts in social programmes and to privatise state-run companies and services. They also want to target the working conditions, living standards and rights of the workers. This is how the rightwing in Brazil wants to use the crisis to further exploit and repress the working masses.

The moderate wing wants to make slower and fewer cuts. The Workers Party did the same thing between 2002 and 2016. President Lula, a former steel worker, introduced many social programmes and increased social spending massively to lift millions out of poverty. That worked, and poverty was reduced in Brazil. But at the same time, Lula tried to appease the ruling class and introduce changes in the labour laws. Dilma Rousseff continued this policy.

The ruling class was not happy with Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party. They impeached Rousseff (who was president) to oust her from the power. Then they went after former president Lula and imprisoned him on corruption charges. Lula was popular enough to have won the election even from his prison cell. So he was barred from contesting elections.

Lula’s ouster from the presidential race paved the way for the rise of Bolsonaro and the Far Right. More than 100 politicians and officials have been convicted on corruption charges in a massive corruption probe called Car Wash (Lava Jato).

Professor of political science at Rio University Feres Junior summarises the political situation in Brazil in these words. “There is a combination of forces that wants a different type of Brazil. The rightwing forces joined hands to get rid of Lula and his party.”

“This group includes rightwing political parties, certain judges and big corporations which wants more cuts and attacks on masses. They do not want progressive change.

“They want a Brazil where most (sic) are poor, labour is cheap and where they are not threatened by the rise of indigenous black people”.

The rightwing capitalist media too played its part in this process by targeting the Workers Party and its leadership. There was a clear bias against Lula and the Workers Party.

Lula was popular enough to face the barrage of corruption allegations and leaked documents, but his candidate Haddad was not strong enough to manage the challenge. So he lost badly in a hostile atmosphere.

It seems that the rightwing ruling class wants to see Bolsonaro as the next president of Brazil to carry out its vicious agenda of cuts, austerity and neo-liberalism. Bolsonaro has condoned torture and praised military dictatorship. He has openly said that he would check the growth of social movements campaigning for more rights for women, indigenous people, landless farmers and community groups. He wants to give sweeping powers to the police to turn Brazil into a police state. He also wants privatisation and more cuts on social spending.

Bolsonaro wants to maintain close ties with US and is ready to become a close ally of Trump-led America. He is willing to help Venezuelan dissidents and opposition groups to overthrow the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Bolsonaro’s regime will be a mix of authoritarianism and neoliberal free market policies. It is most likely that he will face a strong resistance from the Brazilian working class which has a rich history of struggle and resistance.

Bolsonaro can still can be defeated in the second round but that will need massive mobilisation of the masses. The question is whether the Workers Party and other left parties can do that.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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