• Kavyaa Kannan

Brazil Elections 2022: Jair Bolsonaro, the next Donald Trump?

On June 30, a petition to impeach Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was submitted to

Brazil’s House of Deputies. The “super petition” combining multiple arguments from pre-existing filings against the president was submitted in hopes to begin investigations on Bolsonaro, already accused of 23 crimes.

In the midst of the ongoing discussions on whether to act on the petition, Bolsonaro is

continuing to lay groundwork to dispute Brazil’s electoral process. Despite considerable opposition to his activities, Bolsonaro remains firm in his stance. How will this play out for Brazil’s future?

From the military to presidentship: Bolsonaro’s journey

Having joined an army preparatory school in his final years of high school, Bolsonaro served in the Brazilian military from 1973 to 1988. Making his first public appearance in 1986 as a military officer in an interview to a news magazine called Veja, he remarked that the High Command was firing officers due to budgetary cuts and complained of low salaries. For this, Bolsonaro immediately gained popularity among officers and civilians who were dissatisfied with Brazil’s new democratic government after years of military dictatorship. Despite the support he received, his superior officers in the military have said he was aggressive and extremely ambitious.

Soon, in 1987, Veja reported that Bolsonaro, with a colleague in the army, had planned to plant bombs in military units in Rio de Janeiro. After an investigation, Bolsonaro was declared guilty. In December 1988, just after this ruling, Bolsonaro left the army to begin his political career. Having served in the military for 15 years, he had obtained the rank of captain before his departure from the forces.

Bolsonaro: A Profile

Bolsonaro entered the political fray in 1988 and was elected a city councillor in Rio de Janeiro, representing the Christian Democratic Party. In the 1990 elections, he was elected a federal deputy, and served seven consecutive terms, from 1991 to 2018. Being a conservative, and an icon for the right-wing, he has often commented that he believes he is being persecuted by left wing parties and most congressmen do not stick to their agenda, rather vote for bills depending on the author.

In January 2018, Bolsonaro left the Social Christian Party and joined the Social Liberal Party, which adopted conservative right-wing stances upon his arrival. Soon after, they announced that they would be nominating Bolsonaro for president in the 2018 election. He was elected and took office in 2019.

His campaign agenda mainly consisted of promises of less government intervention in economic activities, tax cuts and tackling unemployment. Many political analysts claim Bolsonaro moderated his tone and expression of political views in his presidential campaign. Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of national conservatism and has often commented on his admiration for the US supported Brazilian military dictatorship that lasted between 1964 and 1985. Although many have called him far-right and fascist, Bolsonaro denies these claims and says he is “simply right-wing”.

Bolsonaro is an open admirer of former USA president Donald Trump. Many find similarities between the two leaders. Ranging from political views, such as staunch opposition of left-wing ideals such as environmental policies, immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage, to his rebuffs about the state of democracy in his nation, Bolsonaro has been dubbed “Trump of the Tropics”.

A threat to democracy?

In view of Brazil’s surge in coronavirus deaths, Bolsonaro’s popularity has been at an undeniably low point recently. With six members of his cabinet choosing to quit since March, fearing that Bolsonaro might exploit the crisis to gain power, Brazil’s democracy seems to be in a grim position. Although his approval ratings have dropped and the cabinet shakeup exposes his political vulnerability, the petition for impeachment being the latest in a line of dents to Bolsonaro’s reputation, he and his allies have taken several digs at the electoral system and warned that they believe there is scope for voter fraud. Even going to the extent of threatening a Capitol-style riot, Bolsonaro is getting more desperate to hold on to his position of power.

One of the most disconcerting of his actions was the removal of defence minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, a general who was critical in ensuring the military stayed out of politics. Bolsonaro may also use the armed forces to his own benefit and fearing the same, multiple chiefs of the military, navy and air forces resigned.

At this stage, courts must ensure Bolsonaro does not go against the Constitution and ensure that ongoing investigations of allegations against Bolsonaro are not disrupted or slowed down in any way.

Brazil’s take on Bolsonaro: Is impeachment the way out?

Brazilians’ disapproval of Bolsonaro for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is at a record high currently. Further, the major opposition to Bolsonaro, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had been accused of corruption, recently had his convictions overturned, allowing him to run in the 2022 elections. In the surveys and hypothetical polls carried out in several regions of Brazil by political analysts, results show that Bolsonaro could be defeated by two leftist rivals in a runoff vote. However, despite this result, polls also show that over 50% of Brazilians are opposed to impeaching Bolsonaro.

People view Bolsonaro as a conservative calling out corruption in the left wing and hypocritical actions by the opposition. However, his failure to distance the military from the government is where he puts democracy at a risk. The Brazilian military, known for pulling coups, having pulled them over six times in the past, stands as a constant threat to autonomy. Even impeachment cannot break this stumbling block in the system.

To maintain the status quo, the administration will have to place a strict vigilance on military activities and condemn Bolsonaro’s unconstitutional criticism of the Brazilian peoples’ most sacred right—the right to elect their representative.


~ Kavyaa Kannan