September 18, 2018


Brazil's explosive election: democracy at stake in a pillar of the West (Adam Mitchell, September 18, 2018, Spectator USA)

Loved and loathed, the leftist former president Lula continues to cast a great shadow, holding court from jail after a corruption conviction that even some of his fiercest opponents have questioned. His fans adore him for alleviating poverty and symbolising an era of optimism, while his detractors see his years in office as a period of corrupt misrule. For as long as possible, Lula's Workers' Party -- the PT -- maintained the pretence that the former metalworker would be on the ballot on October 7, keeping his millions of loyal voters fired up and giving him a big lead in the polls. But a ruling from Brazil's top electoral court forced the charade to an end, and on September 11 the PT anointed its second-choice candidate, Fernando Haddad. The party's new slogan assures voters that 'Haddad is Lula', and polls have shown that the strategy has started to pay off.

The other main shadow hanging over the election is that of Jair Bolsonaro, a controversy-courting former soldier, who recently sustained a stab wound while out campaigning and has been recovering in hospital. His rough manners and promises to shoot gangsters and sweep away corruption appeal to a broad base of hacked-off citizens, and polls have consistently predicted that he will make it handily into a runoff on October 28. Bolsonaro's rhetoric has included saying he would beat a gay couple kissing in public, and that a female politician wasn't worth raping. His unconventional approach and attention-grabbing antics -- delighting his fans and winding up his enemies -- have fuelled talk of him being a kind of Brazilian Donald Trump. Many urbane Brazilians have been shocked to see old friends backing him on social media, which has become a poisoned agora in which people on all sides have been slamming shut the window of friendship and storming off to coddle their alternative versions of the truth.

In his 1976 hit 'Meu caro amigo', the Brazilian musician Chico Buarque sang out a letter to a friend in exile, telling him that although rain still followed shine and there was plenty of samba and football, life under Brazil's military dictatorship was dark. But in today's Brazil, even the national sport has become a faction-ridden battleground. When the Tottenham Hotspur star Lucas Moura backed Bolsonaro on Twitter recently, the explosive reaction provided a fresh example of the hard feelings on either side of the debate. Meanwhile, many left-leaning Brazilians feel that the use of the national football strip at pro-impeachment demonstrations has sullied a once unifying symbol.

Posted by at September 18, 2018 6:18 PM