At the head of an empire of 150 evangelical temples, the Brazilian pastor Silas Malafaia, a close friend and informal adviser to President Jair Bolsonaro, is deeply involved in the campaign to have him re-elected.
“I realized what it is to be powerful,” the head of the Assembly of God Victory in Christ (ADEVC) told AFP.
He has been leading this Church for 12 years and prides himself on having multiplied by ten the number of faithful, “from 20.000 to 200.000”.
“Anyone can try to influence the elections, why not me? Trade unionists, doctors, communists do it well, ”says this 63-year-old man with a tanned complexion and a bald head.
“If I publish a video, it reaches more than 500.000 views in a few hours”, assures this star of TV-evangelical programs, which has more than 10 million subscribers on social networks.
In one of his videos, he does not hesitate to affirm that "cachaça (Brazilian cane alcohol) has destroyed the neurons" of the former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is ahead of Jair Bolsonaro in the polls for the October 2 election.
Pastor Malafaia supports Bolsonaro because the latter defends the conservative values dear to most evangelicals, who notably reject the right to abortion and gay marriage.
Evangelicals, followers of a heterogeneous, but mostly conservative, current of Protestantism, represent almost a third of the Brazilian population.
"In 2032, we will be the majority of the population", he said during the interview at the main temple of the ADEVC, a modern building with large tinted windows which can accommodate 6.500 faithful in Penha, a popular district in the north of Rio de Janeiro.
The evangelical vote is “decisive”, according to him. "Some devotees go to the temple four times a week and this creates a very strong social bond," he explains.
Malafaia and Bolsonaro are longtime friends. The pastor from Rio celebrated his marriage with his wife Michelle, a fervent evangelical.
On Wednesday, he was alongside the president in the gallery during the celebrations of the bicentenary of independence, in Brasilia then in Rio.
The far-right president's eldest son, Flavio Bolsonaro, revealed in 2021 that Silas Malafaia spoke "almost every day" with his father and was a source of "influence".
The pastor confirms and assures that he does not hesitate to speak to him in all frankness: “I tell him when I think he is not taking the right path”.
But he generally defends the mandate of the head of state, who came to power in January 2019.
"Bolsonaro has managed to lead both the defense of (Christian) values and the fight against violence and corruption," he said.
According to the latest poll by the benchmark institute Datafolha, Jair Bolsonaro is credited with 48% of voting intentions among evangelicals, against 32% for Lula. On the other hand, the left-wing ex-president retains a significant lead in the electorate as a whole (45% against 32% for Bolsonaro).
Malafaia does not believe in polls, recalling that in 2018, they only gave Bolsonaro the winner in the final stretch before the presidential election.
The pastor remains confident, “but it will not be easy”.
“Allied, not alienated”
Like Bolsonaro, Silas Malafaia questions the reliability of the electronic ballot box system, although no trace of fraud has been found so far.
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Silas Malafaia is also very critical of one of the president's pet peeves, Alexandre de Moraes, the president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), a "dictator in a toga" according to him.
This implacable magistrate, who is also a member of the Supreme Court, ordered the opening of several investigations against Bolsonaro, in particular for the dissemination of false information.
But Pastor Malafaia's support is not unconditional: “I want to be free, and if at some point I have to hit, I do. I am an ally, not an alien.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)