Last night, Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro as its next president in a runoff election, another notch in a worldwide shift to the right.
It was the first presidential loss since 2002 for the leftist Workers’ Party, which was hobbled by corruption scandals in 2016. Bolsonaro’s conservative Social Liberal Party (PSL) has tapped into Brazilians’ frustration with high unemployment, soaring murder rates and political corruption. The seven-term congressman in Brazil is also notorious for aggressive rants against women, homosexuals and people of color.
Observers have compared Bolsonaro to U.S. President Donald Trump — both love stirring up controversy on social media and have harnessed populist sentiment, promising to clear their respective governments of corrupt political elites. But his approval of violence and extrajudicial killings makes him closer to the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte than to Trump, an opinion writer for NBC News says.
With 207 million residents, Brazil is the world’s fourth-largest democracy and the ninth-largest economy. Bolnosaro’s election is going to have effects far beyond Brazil’s borders.
What Bolsonaro means for business in Brazil
Investors have cheered Bolsonaro’s ascent, hopeful that he would carry out free-market fiscal reforms. Bolsonaro’s chief economic advisor, investment banker Paulo Guedes, promises to privatize aggressively. In May he said selling off state-owned companies from lender Banco do Brasil to oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA (known as Petrobras) would allow the country to pay off its debts and better fund local governments.
Tokyo-listed Brazilian stock exchange traded funds jumped more than 12% when Japanese markets opened following Bolsonaro’s win. Brazil’s currency, the real, has gained about 10% against the dollar in the last month as Bolsonaro’s prospects of winning increased. Sao Paulo’s benchmark Bovespa stock index has risen 13.5% since mid-September.
What Bolsonaro means for human rights
Bolsonaro told Playboy magazine in June 2011 he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son,” saying, “I would prefer my son to die in an accident” than bring a man home.
Roberto Efrem, a law professor at Brazil’s Federal University of Paraiba, told NBC there will be “a lot of consequences for LGBT people,” especially if Bolsonaro’s proposal to add 10 judges to the current 11 on the Supreme Court becomes reality. LGBTQ supporters worry that the progress made in Brazil over the past two decades, including legalizing gay marriage, creation of LGBTQ crisis centers, public health care for trans people and the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the military and in public sector jobs, will be reversed.
Bolsonaro once told a congresswoman that she did “not worthy” of being raped by him and has said women do not deserve the same pay as men.
What Bolsonaro means for the environment
Bolsonaro has promised to open up tracks of indigenous lands and the Amazon rainforest to development, which environmental groups say would be disastrous. “His reckless plans to industrialize the Amazon in concert with Brazilian and international agribusiness and mining sectors will bring untold destruction to the planet’s largest rainforest and the communities who call it home, and spell disaster for the global climate,” Amazon Watch program director Christian Poirier told CNN.
The president-elect has backed away from his initial promise to follow Trump’s lead and exit the Paris climate accord, but he has told international nonprofits such as the World Wildlife Fund that he will not tolerate their agendas in Brazil.
What Bolsonaro means for Trump
The two largest nations in the Americas are both now led by conservative populists promising to overturn the political establishment. An outspoken admirer of Trump, Bolsonaro has pledged to realign Brazil with more advanced economies rather than regional allies.
Trump called Bolsonaro yesterday to congratulate him on his election victory, the White House said. Trump and Bolsonaro agreed to “work side-by-side to improve the lives of the people of the United States and Brazil, and as regional leaders, of the Americas,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
“This is a really radical shift,” Scott Mainwaring, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who specializes in Brazil told the New York Times. “I can’t think of a more extremist leader in the history of democratic elections in Latin America who has been elected.”