Brazilians went to the polls on October 2 and voted for president, senators, federal deputies, and in state elections. The expectations of many were that the former president would win in the first round. The advantage of six million votes was significant, but the vote for his opponent and his allies (43.2%) surprised and emboldened the far-right. Lula received 12.9 million more votes in the Northeast than Bolsonaro, which compensated for having received 6.9 million less than his opponent in the Southeast, South, and Midwest regions of the country.
The second round will be held on October 30 and Bolsonaro will be supported by the current governor of São Paulo, Rodrigo Garcia (defeated in his reelection bid), and by the governors already reelected in the first round in Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, Cláudio Castro and Romeu Zema. Lula counts on the support of Simone Tebet, who came in the third position in the presidential elections, and of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), a party that came in the fourth position with Ciro Gomes.
The election for the Federal Senate also showed Bolsonaro’s strength. One-third of the Chamber was renewed, 27 of the 81 senators and eight were from Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, which became the largest bench. Among those elected are former ministers, religious fundamentalists such as Damares Alves, and Vice President General Hamilton Mourão, as well as former judge Sérgio Moro, who prosecuted and convicted Lula in the Operation Lava Jato trials. The latter had broken with Bolsonaro, but has now expressed his support.
The advance of authoritarianism
The use of public machinery in the campaign for reelection is unprecedented. The official events of September 7, Brazil’s Independence Day, were transformed into a campaign rally when the presidential candidate affirmed that he will never be arrested and that the only options for him are death or victory. Furthermore, he has repeated that he will only recognize the outcome of the elections if they are “clean”. This implies that any defeat would be interpreted as fraud.
In this framework, if Bolsonaro wins in the second round he will radically increase his margin of maneuver to impose himself over the controls and subvert the Constitution, with the risk of shutting down the regime. A victory against Lula, favorite in all polls for the last four years and with two presidential mandates well valued and internationally recognized, would increase Bolsonaro’s capacity to unify around him the sectors of the repressive apparatus: Armed Forces and Police. It would also allow him to attract to his base, together with the already aligned far right-wing parliamentarians, congressmen eager for budgetary funds.
Support for the current government has been bought with an increase in budgetary resources for investments that are chosen by parliamentarians, the so-called “secret budget”. Such resources are obtained even with cuts in social areas, such as education: 1 billion reais were blocked in 2022 for federal universities and colleges, making much of the activities of public education unviable.
This scenario would allow Bolsonaro to carry out constitutional reforms and the reformulation of the main institutional barrier to this: the composition of the Supreme Federal Court (STF). Bolsonaro offended two of its members, Alexandre de Moraes and Luís Roberto Barroso, and mentioned the possibility of their dismissal after the elections. He also raised the possibility of increasing the number of STF members, having more candidacies, and of lowering their retirement age, to force the dismissal of those appointed by his predecessors.
It is up to the President of the Senate to receive the complaint to initiate the process of removal of a member of the STF and a vote of 54 of the 81 senators is needed to approve it. The approval of the amendments to the Constitution requires the support of 54 senators and also of 308 of the 513 federal deputies. In this framework, Bolsonaro’s large bench in the Senate sets off alarm bells.
Bolsonaro’s regressive agenda
The Public Security Forum indicates that the number of congressmen who are police or Armed Forces officers increased from 28 to 36 in these elections. Agencia Estado, for its part, points out that, of the 40 candidates for federal deputies or senators supported by the lobby for the relaxation of gun carrying (Proarmas), 17 were elected, mostly by the Liberal Party. Precisely the gesture of firing a gun with his hands was the symbol of Bolsonaro’s campaign in 2018. His government is identified with militarism and the violence and diffusion of weapons, which favors the paramilitary mafia groups known as “militias”, whose personal relations with the presidential clan are known.
Christian fundamentalism is also striking in Bolsonaro’s pronouncements, whose motto is “Brazil above all, God above all.” Evangelicals are one of the segments with the highest incidence of voting for him. According to pollster DataFolha, 62% of evangelicals would vote for Bolsonaro in the second round, while 31% for Lula. Criminalizing abortion in Brazil is not out of the plans: Damares Alves, Minister of Women and Human Rights, in 2020 harassed a raped ten-year-old girl for months so that she would not have an abortion, despite the fact that the legislation allowed it both because of sexual violence and the risk of dying in childbirth.
Military authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism are advancing in Brazil. This may be the last chance to stop it. Not by chance, Lula’s historical adversaries have expressed their support in this second round, in the broadest political front since the campaign for the direct vote at the end of the military dictatorship.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva