What You Should Know Before One of Brazil’s Most Important & Polarizing Presidential Elections

Lead Photo: Protesters carry posters against the far-right’s presidential candidate on September 29, 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images
Protesters carry posters against the far-right’s presidential candidate on September 29, 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images
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On October 28, Brazilians will go out and vote in one of the country’s most important presidential elections. The results will likely have long-lasting effects in Brazil, which will reverberate across South America and the world. Brazil is, after all, one of the biggest and most powerful countries in Latin America.

The elections take place during fraught times: there is an unprecedented number of politicians facing criminal charges, violent crime is increasing, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (a heavy favorite for this year’s election until a court banned him from running) sits in jail, and while Operation Car Wash – what’s possibly the world’s biggest corruption scandal – has lost steam, it still looms in the background and has caused distrust among Brazilians.

As Brazilians go out to vote, feminism, racism, social development, racial hate commingle in the eye of a tropical storm. And while it’d be impossible to cover it all here – especially in a nuanced way – here’s a snapshot of the most important things you should know about Brazil’s presidential election.

Update, October 26, 2018: Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad will face off on October 28 in a run-off election. Bolsonaro received 49 million votes to Haddad’s 31 million in the first round, and he is still heavily expected to win the election.


The Candidates

Fernando Haddad, Mayor of Sao Paulo attends the car free day on September 27, 2015 in Paris, France. Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

When Brazilians hit the polls on Sunday, they’ll vote between Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, who stand on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Bolsonaro is a far-right candidate currently in the lead. Haddad replaced Lula as the Partido Dos Trabalhadores’ candidate, and he currently trails behind Bolsonaro.


The Evangelical Movement and Bolsonaro's Rise

Photo by dabldy / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Outside of Brazil, it may appear as through the election is dominated by two forces of similar strength. On the one side, there’s Fernando Haddad, who serves as the Minister of Education under both presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff. On the other, there’s Bolsonaro, a former army captain of the Partido Social Liberal. Bolsonaro has made innumerable racist, sexist, and homophobic statements, such as “Black people are useless even as breeders,” that his sons know better than to fall in love with a Black woman or “become” gay because “they were very well educated,” and that women “should earn less money because they get pregnant and spend six months on vacation.” And yet, he remains in the lead.

But when looking at the electoral landscape, we can’t just look to Bolsonaro and Haddad. To do that, would be to look at this process merely by the portion of the iceberg that is visible above the water. That is to say, it tells an incomplete picture.

The 12 years of dominance from the Partido Dos Trabalhadores (PT) and Lula was only possible because of an incredibly broad web of alliances that made the former president massive on a national scale.

While race, housing, alliances, and several political identities will all play a role in this election, so will religion, particularly the evangelical movements that have gained momentum across South America. As frustration over economic shortages, living situations, and morality increase, the churches have moved in throughout Brazil. In the country, as well as other parts of Latin America, churches sometimes fulfill what the state cannot or will not realize.

What Bolsonaro – who has served on the Câmara dos Deputados since 1991 – found when he launched his presidential bid is that evangelical leaders supported his anti-LGBTQ stances. Though in Brazil’s political maze, there are certainly pro-LGBTQ evangelics, most of the movement – especially its most important figure, Pastor Edir Macedo, the leader of Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (a company that owns the third major TV broadcaster) – has already backed a man who, beside being misogynistic and racist, is promising the death penalty.

A survey reveals that conservative opinions have risen from 49 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2016. This has allowed evangelical churches – in Brazil this means Pentecostal, Neo-Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist – to swoop in, and now more people identify as evangelicals (22.2 percent in 2010, up from 6.6 percent in 1980). One of every four voters in Brazil identifies as evangelical.

In 2016, Pastor Everaldo baptized Bolsonaro in the Jordan River, cementing his place in the evangelical movement. And though his supporters may not agree with everything he says – some of which he has toned down to appeal to a larger number of people – they do see him as someone who is virtuous.


The Issues

Shock Troop Military Police of Sao Paulo State on March 13, 2016 on Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by IltonRogerio / iStock Unreleased

Corruption and crime have cropped up over and over again in this election, and have allowed Bolsonaro to take the lead. Bolsonaro has promised to relax gun laws and allow for an increased police presence in the wake of the 63,880 homicides that took place in the country last year. He has previously said that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.” And he wants to lower the age that children can be tried as adults to 14.

The economy, which is slowly recovering, is another factor. And while Bolsonaro is touted as the “more market-friendly candidate,” he has shown real gaps in knowledge in this area. When pressed on this area, he has said that it’s the job of an economic adviser to figure that out.


Antipetismo and PT

Supporters of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather in front of the headquarters of the Metalworkers’ Union while awaiting Lula’s speech. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

It’s not just the evangelical movement that’s working for Bolsonaro it’s also antipetismo – a rejection of PT, the former party of the government. “I don’t know what will happen with Brazil with Bolsonaro in power, but the important things here is to be done with PT,” Daniel Figueredo, a 50-year-old man who runs a newsstand in Rio’s downtown, told me. He’s not thinking about the hateful language Bolsonario employs at every turn. Instead, he’s thinking that PT’s reign needs to end. “No matter who competes with PT, I will keep voting for them because corruption needs to come to an end,” he adds, with a smile.

For a considerable part of the country, PT represents everything that’s wrong in Brazil. A recent Datafolha Institute survey found that though 45 percent of the country rejects Bolsonaro, Haddad has closed in the gap, with 41 percent rejecting him, up from 32 percent. In places in the south and southeast, anti-PT views registered higher.

The antipetismo is so deep that even Black people and women – people who stand to lose the most under a Bolsonaro government – have turned their backs on the PT. “Me and my friend are going to vote for [Bolsonaro] because the worst that can happen to Brazil is the return of PT,” Michel Mariano told me. Both of his friends are black. When asked why they were voting Bolsonaro, one of them answered: “No matter what they say, he will bring order to Brazil.”

Despite the accomplishments of Lula and Rousseff’s governments, antipetismo is a product of political scandals. And the mainstream media – particularly Rede O Globo – has played a role in that because the PT tried to reduced its reach, and therefore, influence. On Globo, Lula recently said, “their name may turn out to be that of the fascist snake, hatched in the nest of hatred, violence, and lies.”

Globo – the only channel to host the presidential TV debates – has therefore been able to use its voice and power to hit PT hard.


The Increasing Role of Women & the LGBTQ Community in Politics

Women protest against the far-right’s presidential candidate on September 29, 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

In Brazil’s history, there has never been as many female candidates as in this election. There’s also ten times more LGBTQ candidates compared to in 2014. And 54 trans candidates are up for positions in the federal and state parliaments. It’s impossible to analyze this year’s election without looking at the effect these communities have had.

And while Bolsonaro didn’t pick a female running mate, there are women running for the vice presidency in center, right, and left parties. One of them is Sonia Guajajara, of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade. She represents Indigenous peoples’ interests.

Regardless of whether Haddad or Bolsonaro wins, they’ll face a grassroots feminist power that recently produced the #EleNao movement, the largest women’s mobilization in the country’s history to protest Bolsonaro’s politics.