Note: This article originally appeared in Spanish on our partner website, esglobal. To read the original piece, click here.
Brazil has not had a presidential race determined during the first round since 1994, when the sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso won the presidential elections in the first round with a comfortable 54.24 percent of the vote. On Sunday, Bolsonaro, the right-wing candidate and figurehead of the Liberal Social Party (PSL), won 46 percent of the vote, coming shockingly close to winning Brazil’s presidency in an overwhelming first-round result. His most serious opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT), received a mere 29.3 percent. An intense but brief campaign to stop Bolsonaro lies ahead in the build-up to the second round, scheduled for October 28.
But in elections that also saw Brazilians elect 513 federal deputies, 54 senators, 1,059 state deputies, and 27 governors, who are the true winners and losers? The initial reaction from experts is that a wave of anti-corruption sentiment has led to the demise of traditional politicians around the country. Regardless of the result of the second round, the primary losers of the election are old politics based on clientelism. “The party system that we knew died on the 30th anniversary of the Constitution,” said Jairo Nicolau, professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
The word most used by political scientists to describe this election has been renewal. In the Chamber of Deputies, 243 of 513 seats (47.3 percent) will be filled by new faces who have never served in congress before. That’s the highest number in more than twenty years. The once-marginal PSL, driven by the growing popularity of Bolsonaro, moves from one seat to 52 seats, becoming the second largest party in congress. Of these 52 new deputies, 21 are police officers, including Fabiana Silva of Rio de Janeiro, who rose to fame when she was photographed chasing down suspected arsonists with her gun drawn. Elsewhere, Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair Bolsonaro’s son, became the federal deputy with the highest vote total in the history of Brazil, with 1.84 million votes.
There has also been profound renewal on the left. The PT suffered heavy losses: its share of seats fell by 19 percent; it now holds 56 seats. The Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL)—the party of Marielle Franco, the black councilor executed in Rio de Janeiro in March—registered a growth rate of 100 percent and will have 10 representatives in the new congress. “A high rate of renewal does not guarantee a better-functioning Congress,” warns Nicolau. He anticipates difficulties with the formation of a parliamentary majority, no matter who wins the second round election. In 2019 the Chamber of Deputies will have a whopping 30 parties, five more than in the current legislature. Brazil is experiencing levels of fragmentation unparalleled in democracies around the world.
“These elections mark the triumph of new faces and of politicians with a clean sheet, who are not involved in cases of corruption and are not under investigation. For example, Romeu Zema of the Novo Party, a billionaire businessman who had never run for office, won the first round elections for governor of Minas Gerais with 42.73 percent of the vote,” comments David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia.
The Senate has also experienced the greatest renewal in its history. Three of every four senators who ran for re-election this year failed to hold their seats. In total, of the 54 seats contested this year, 46 will be occupied by newcomers. Among the senators who have failed in their bids for re-election is the former president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. Her defeat is perhaps the greatest example of the punishment vote by the Brazilian electorate.
“The biggest losers are part of the traditional political class. To cite a few examples, Senate President Eunício Oliveira failed in his bid for re-election. Romero Jucá, who had been in the Senate for 20 years, also fell to a newcomer challenger. Many traditional political dynasties have fallen in this election,” says Fleischer.
Another peculiarity of these elections is that half of the elected parliamentarians are millionaires. 48.55 percent of federal deputies and senators have declared a wealth of over one million reais (about $270,000). The proportion of rich politicians is higher in the Senate, where 36 of 54 elected positions are millionaires. In the lower house, 241 deputies, equivalent to 47 percent of the total, are millionaires.
Brazilian voters have rewarded “ultraconservatism, truculent discourse and religious fundamentalism. The bullet pulpit has grown and promises to become more powerful,” says Bernando Mello Franco, a columnist for the newspaper O Globo.
“Bolsonaro’s win is a win for conservatives. It is likely that the economic program ahead will include liberalizations and privatizations. The Brazilian population may even benefit from this scenario, if Bolsonaro really manages to reactivate the economy,” suggests Sérgio Praça, professor at the School of Social Sciences at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).
“Bolsonaro’s victory is also a major victory for the United states, which will gain market spaces with the inevitable privatization of state companies, possibly including Petrobas. Internally, the rentiers, weapon manufacturers, evangelicals, and agribusiness are the big winners,” says Carlos Eduardo Martins, professor of political science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Workers, who according to Martins will be subjected to worse conditions and harsher hours, are among the biggest losers of Bolsonaro’s likely victory. “With the orthodox neoliberalism of Bolsonaro, these workers are unlikely to recover the jobs they lost in the last few years,” Martin adds.
In the hypothetical but unlikely case that Haddad manages to join several national forces and defeat Bolsonaro in the second round, the biggest winners will undoubtedly be Brazil’s workers. “The PT candidate has explicit proposals to reactivate the economy and reverse the Temer government’s unpopular reforms. Haddad intends to orient development for the needs of the poorest and to shift industrial policy towards the direction of nationalization, especially with regard to the petroleum industry. His platform aims to penalize the rich and resume an active foreign policy focused on Latin American integration, which is now in decline. On the other hand, the biggest losers of a potential Haddad victory are transnational corporations, rentiers, and the right,” says Martins.
Despite these speculations, it is important to note that one in three Brazilians has professed absolute disinterest in what the future president can do to contribute to her or his day-to-day life. Voter disenchantment played a relevant role in the elections, with 20.3 percent of Brazilians choosing to abstain from voting—the highest levels since 1998. In total, one in five voters (30 million people) stayed home from the polls. When combined with null and blank votes, 29.12 percent of voters chose no candidate in elections.
In the international sphere, the two greatest issues facing Brazil going forward are relations with Venezuela—responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis that Brazil has faced in decades—and relations with foreign investors. With Bolsonaro likely to take the helm come 2019, it is expected that the relationship with Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela will shift radically. As for foreign capital, the privatization package proposed by Paulo Guedes, Bolsonaro’s Minister of the Economy and mastermind of his economic program, will likely prove attractive to new investors.
“We have to wait to see what Bolsonaro is really like in the financial and business sectors, in the event that he wins in the second round. Most businessmen welcome the election of Bolsonaro as a stop-gap to prevent the PT from returning to power. It is possible that national and foreign businessmen invest more in Brazil with Bolsonaro, which would reduce unemployment. The uncertainty [of the direction of the Brazilian economy under Bolsonaro] is the great challenge ahead,” concludes Fleischer.