Brazil’s polarizing runoff election

Amid a polarizing presidential campaign, Jair Bolsonaro, described as the “Brazilian Donald Trump,” won the Oct. 28 runoff election with 55.3 percent of the vote.

The two candidates represented opposing ends of the political spectrum, with Fernando Haddad running for the democratic socialist Workers’ Party (PT) and Bolsonaro representing the conservative Social Liberty Party.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. local time and closed 11 hours later at 7 p.m. By 7:37 p.m., 96 percent of votes had been accounted for. Reuters reported over 57 million votes were cast for Bolsonaro, while only 46 million were for Haddad, giving the far-right candidate the official victory as predicted.

Brazil’s general election was held on Oct. 7 with 13 candidates vying for presidency, the most notable being Bolsonaro, Haddad, and Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT). Bolsonaro led with 46.93 percent of votes, followed by Haddad with 28 percent and Gomes with 12.5 percent, as reported by Reuters. Because no candidate secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election was required between the two leading candidates.

Since 2014, Brazilian politics have been engulfed by corruption scandals. While it began with a state-owned oil company, the scandal dubbed as Operation Car Wash has now implicated nearly 80 politicians and business elites, including the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Professor Shawn Smallman of International and Latin American studies at Portland State said during an interview prior to the Oct. 28 election, “It’s stunning to me how successful Bolsonaro has been. He polls very well with men. He polls very poorly with women. He’s from southeastern Brazil, but he doesn’t have a lot of support from the Northeast. I think he is showing how desperate Brazilians are after the corruption scandal.”

On the other end of the spectrum lies Haddad, who was more focused on boosting the country’s economic recovery following the effects of Operation Car Wash. “We combine fiscal responsibility with social responsibility. We are not going to sacrifice the people any more,” he told The Guardian. “Without public investment, without families spending, without cheap credit, the economy won’t recover.”


However, Haddad struggled to gain support and recognition from the Brazilian population throughout the campaigning process. This is partly due to his association as the running mate of the PT’s official candidate Lula da Silva. Though Lula is currently in prison on corruption charges, he was still legally the party’s presidential candidate. And while Lula is still a prominent name among Brazilians, not many recognized the name of the candidate filling his shoes.

Bolsonaro has been widely described as a “Brazilian Donald Trump” due to his unrestrained commentary on women, minorities and people of the LGBTQ community. His “beef, Bible and bullet” platform gained him a significant following in the wake of Operation Car Wash.

Bolsonaro was charged with inciting hatred in April for discriminatory comments on multiple occasions, such as when he said in The Guardian, “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual son…I would prefer my son to die in an accident than show up with a mustachioed man.” In December 2014, he told a female lawmaker, “A few days ago you called me a rapist…and I said I wouldn’t rape you because you’re not worthy of it,” while acting as congressman on the floor of the national legislature, as reported by TIME.

As a result of Bolsonaro’s victory, there will likely be a series of socially conservative legislature enacted in Brazil, as well as a reduced size of government. “I think it would be a really frightening decision for the LGBTQ community,” Smallman said. “I expect he would try to put through legislation to basically undermine women’s rights.”