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Former ambassador discusses Brazil elections

October 12, 2018
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Rio de Janeiro congressman Jair Bolsonaro won the first round of presidential elections in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Partido Social Liberal

ANN ARBOR—Brazil held its first round of voting to elect a new president Oct. 7. Rio de Janeiro congressman Jair Bolsonaro won the first round. The runoff between Bolsonaro and former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad will be held on Oct. 28.

Melvyn Levitsky is a retired ambassador who began his diplomatic career as a consul in the northeastern Brazilian city of Belem in the late 1960s. He returned in 1994 to serve as ambassador during the Clinton administration.

He is a professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School of Public Policy and discussed the Brazilian elections with Global Michigan:

Melvyn Levitsky

Melvyn Levitsky

“Jair Bolsonaro was projected to lead the first-round election results, but he exceeded the polling margin over the second-place candidate, former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, by a considerable percentage.

Bolsonaro’s popularity is largely based on public dissatisfaction with a number of problems like – widespread corruption, dysfunctional government, drug trafficking and crime, gang control of large urban areas, police ineffectiveness for which he has devised simplified, often violent and sometimes unlawful solutions.

Being stabbed certainly didn’t hurt his image as Brazil’s savior. He also struck a Trump-like, ultra-nationalist chord by emphasizing how these issues were embarrassing Brazil and how he planned to return Brazil to greatness with slogans like ‘Let’s make Brazil great! Let’s be proud of our homeland once again!’

Bolsonaro seems to be riding a global wave of populist, nativist movements based on general discontent; witness events in places like Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Philippines, Russia and the United States. Haddad, who visits former President Lula in prison every week, is counting on votes from the left that boosted Lula to the presidency. That tactic has a limit.

Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) lost its reputation for honesty and efficiency via the numerous scandals involving Lula himself, a number of his appointees and those of his impeached successor, Dilma Rousseff.

Bolsonaro might win. The question is how will he govern? His party is small so he will have to build a coalition.

It is clear he recognizes this. His first words after Sunday’s election seemed to focus on moderating his image and diminishing the fire and brimstone of his campaign. We will have an indication of his governing style in the content of his campaign during the run-up to the second round.”

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