Brazil: what turning point for Bolsonarism?


Lula comes from win by a short head the second round of the presidential election in Brazil against incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, after a campaign marred by unrest until the last day.

This extremely tense campaign will have confirmed the lasting hold of Bolsonarism on Brazilian society.

Indeed, despite the resurgence of food insecurity, almost 700 deaths caused by the Covid-000 pandemic and increase in deforestation, Jair Bolsonaro and his government have maintained strong popularity with a large part of the population throughout his mandate. The latest Datafolha survey organized before the election indicated that 38% of Brazilians considered the government “good” or “very good”, while 22% considered it “average” and 39% “bad” or “very bad”.

If the debate remains open, the ongoing research show that adherence to bolsonarist ideas can be explained by several factors, the first being the communication strategy of the now ex-president. Despite the recurring criticisms of the traditional media towards Bolsonaro and his government, Bolsonarism manages to create an independent, extensive and permeable circuit of information, especially on the Internet.

Against all odds

The content reproduced by these means of dissemination also contributes to the maintenance of Bolsonarism. Despite its internal differences, the Bolsonarist discourse conceives of the leader and his supporters as soldiers in the fight against “the system”. This “system” includes, among others, higher education institutions, judicial institutions, national and international NGOs, and even the United Nations.

As a result, any criticism emanating from these institutions and their members sees its legitimacy called into question, which helps to justify the difficulties encountered by the government in the implementation of its policies.

In addition, Bolsonarist discourse insists on the need to moralize Brazilian society. This moralization revives the memory of corruption scandals that erupted during the governments of the Workers' Party and exalts traditional values ​​- as evidenced by the bolsonarist slogan often repeated, "God, country and family". In this context, the use of national and religious symbols reinforces the moralizing effect, arousing feelings such as fear and hatred.

In addition, it is important to highlight the economic and moral support provided to Bolsonaro by certain sectors, such as part of the Evangelical Churches (in particular Pentecostals), agribusiness, the business world, the police and the government. 'army.

A restricted representation of the people

The entrenchment of Bolsonarism in Brazilian society depends to a large extent on the construction of a certain representation of the people. Based on the figure of the “good citizen”, the people that Bolsonaro and his camp intend to represent is built above all in opposition to the representations made of the common enemy Bolsonarist, embodied by the left.

From a perspective of the struggle of good against evil, the others are here the "wanderers", whether they are inside - all those who would threaten the integrity of Brazilians and their families - or outside - in this sense, the many comparisons with Latin American countries governed by left-wing parties serve to warn against their return to power.

In this context, Lula appears as the personification of this counter-image, uniting the Bolsonarist “us” around a profound rejection. In particular, he is credited with the desire to destroy Brazilian families - against a background of the fight against "gender ideology", associated with the "sexualization of children" - and to persecute Christians, at the risk of seeing their temples closed - by citing the example of Nicaragua.

Moral panic around Lula

The policies of the fight against poverty implemented by the Workers' Party are also castigated as a form of electoral manipulation - even if Bolsonaro seeks to highlighting one's own "generosity" towards the beneficiaries of these same policies. In addition, Lula is presented as the candidate "of the system", supported both by the mainstream media and by the institutions in charge of regulating the elections - in particular the supreme electoral tribunal, represented in the person of its president, Minister Alexandre de Moraes.

With the moral panic created around the Lula camp, the idea develops that Brazil is spiritually sick, because it is dominated by evil forces. Bolsonaro then appears as the only one who can fight against these forces and "heal" Brazil by ridding it of a deeply corrupt system.

This discourse underlies a form of rapprochement with voters, marked by the enhancement of authenticity and simplicity as intrinsic qualities of the leader and the people he intends to represent. The use of vulgar terms, the claim of common sense against a certain intellectualism perceived as elitist, or even his style of dress translate a somewhat caricatural representation of the "ordinary citizen".

The weight of the popular electorate

According to the latest polls (Datafolha, October 28, 2022), voters whose family income is less than or equal to two Brazilian minimum wages (around €460) tend to vote for Lula (61% Lula, 33% Bolsonaro). This gap is reproduced in most of the strata where the working classes are in the majority, such as among voters who declare themselves to be black (60% against 34%), the least educated (60% against 34%) and those who live in the Northeast, the poorest in Brazil (67% against 28%). Despite this, in a country where 48% of voters have a family income of two minimum wages or less, the support of the popular electorate remains fundamental to maintaining Bolsonaro's electoral potential.

This potential can be partly explained by the support it enjoys with evangelicals. However, the evangelical camp, which in 2018 was strongly favorable to Bolsonaro (nearly 70% of the vote), has today become a contested side, as Esther Solano points out. This professor of international relations at the Federal University of São Paulo observes that some faithful express their dissatisfaction with the instrumentalization of their religion for political ends and notes the existence of what she calls "oscillating Pentecostalism" between Lula and Bolsonaro. According to the researcher, some of the faithful of the Pentecostal Churches regret having supported Bolsonaro, either because of the lack of support for the population during the pandemic, or because of their economic despair.

In addition to religious questions, the Bolsonarist discourse seems to find some resonance in the revolt of the working classes in the face of crime – more intense in the outskirts of large cities and in rural areas. Faced with this anger, the response is a repressive proposal, whether by the police or by the citizens – then becoming free to carry firearms.

Moreover, Bolsonarist discourse highlights the importance of corruption as the key to explaining all problems. This contributes to the construction of an image of the state as an obstacle to individual and collective development – ​​which is why, from this point of view, public functions should be entrusted to the private sector, asserted Paulo Guedes, Bolsonaro's economy minister.

The long term effects

In view of the Bolsonarist entrenchment in Brazilian society, it is important to consider the short and long term effects it has produced on this young democracy. The incessant attacks directed at the other powers, in particular the Supreme Court, accentuate the distrust of the institutions whose mission is to safeguard the rule of law. Anchored in the 1988 Constitution, the promulgation of which sealed the end of the military dictatorship, this institutional framework displayed signs of corrosion long before Bolsonaro came to power.

Faced with the succession of crises and reconfigurations that have occurred over the past decade, marked by the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, as well as numerous corruption scandals, widespread discontent is becoming more and more palpable. Bolsonarism then appears as expression of anti-politics, assuming that everyone who submits to the system is corrupt. A construction not devoid of contradictions – given the former captain's long trajectory as a deputy, and above all the fact that he too is led to form an alliance with old political forces in order to stay in power – but very powerful in a society plagued by scandals and a certain moralizing discourse.

The scenarios that are emerging for the future of Brazilian democracy do not suggest a “return to democratic normality” that is easy to operate. The phenomenon currently observed is characterized much more by the destructuring of a historically situated institutional framework which was already showing its limits.

Even if Lula's victory were accepted by Bolsonaro and his supporters, it would take a lot of work from the new government to readjust to the new methods of political action, in the face of a Bolsonarist opposition that will undoubtedly be fierce and determined to return to power. as quickly as possible.

Bruno Ronchi, PhD student in political science, University of Rennes 1 et Lucas Camargo Gomes, PhD student in sociology, Federal University of Paraná, Federal University of Parana (Brazil)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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