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Brazilian elections: Aftershocks of a populist regime

What a relief! Jair Bolsonaro is gone, but what will this populist’s legacy mean for the world?

Last Sunday we saw the de-election of a controversial far-right president. This time, newspapers worldwide were not celebrating Donald Trump’s election defeat, but his uncannily similar Brazilian counterpart.

Jair Messias Bolsenaro swept into power in 2019 following a period of financial and political instability in Brazil. Throughout his election campaign, he promised to provide a radical solution to the nation’s issues; blaming the crises on minorities and a corrupt Liberal government.

Despite his promises, the period under the Liberal Party was marked by increased poverty, widespread hunger, and rising inflation for the majority of Brazillians. And for minorities, Bolsenaro’s shocking rhetoric of racism, misogyny, and homophobia led to a surge in hate crimes. In an article in 2011, he told playboy he would rather have a dead son than a homosexual son.

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With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s return to power has been celebrated around the globe.

However, despite this moment of ostensible relief, the consequences of Bolsenaro’s stint in power must not be overlooked. President Lula has inherited a wealth of dilemmas.

For one, the nation is bitterly divided. If the election results (49.1 per cent to 50.9 per cent) are any indication, many Brazilians are still avid supporters of the Alliance for Brazil. The Workers Party will undoubtedly struggle to unite this fractured country. More depressingly, congress remains dominated by the right-wing Liberal Party. The staying power of Bolsenaro’s government will no doubt make it difficult for Lula to pass the reforms his people so desperately need.

The danger of such legacies was painfully demonstrated in the US this summer. Long after his removal from office, three of the Trump-appoint Supreme Court judges voted to overturn Roe vs Wade. Although populist governments may come to an end, their ideologies live on in their supporters, with dangerous repercussions. Will Brazil face the same fate?

So yes, Jair Bolsonaro is gone, but what will this populist’s legacy mean for the world?

The new government also faces mounting pressure to reduce deforestation. Under Bolsenero’s watch, deforestation increased in the rainforest by 75 per cent, leading critics to call him the most dangerous climate change denier in the world. In a move that echoed America’s pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Brazil removed all environmental protections. Despite the brevity of Bolsenero’s time in power, many fear he has created irreversible damage.

In the face of mounting instability, more and more countries are turning to populist leaders who promise to solve the world’s issues with radical alternative solutions. Although when these promises fall short, voters tend to return to the old status quo, the long-lasting consequences can not be ignored. For minorities, the working classes, and the environment, Bolsenaro’s legacy will be painfully felt for the foreseeable future.

We can only hope this is a message to democratic governments around the world to tend to the needs of their people, or else face more populist regime.

Image “Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) e Donald Trump encontram-se em Nova York, antes da abertura da Assembleia Geral das Nações Unidas. ‘Obrigado pela consideração, presidente’, disse Bolsonaro no Twitter (Foto: Alan Santos/PR)” by Brasil de Fato is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

(Translation: “Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) and Donald Trump meet in New York ahead of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. ‘Thank you for your consideration, President’, Bolsonaro said on Twitter.” )