Brazil’s elections: deepening reaction, anger and fear

A woman spits on a picture of Jair Messias Bolsonaro

On 7 October general elections were held in Brazil for the four-yearly Presidential and Vice Presidential offices plus National Congress seats. From 13 presidential candidates, the result revealed a menacing 47% of the ballot, 46 million votes, cast for the openly neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro (Social Liberal Party - PSL), an ex-army captain, and his deputy ex-General Hamilton Mourão  (Brazilian Labour Renewal Party).  His attacks on corruption, mixed with racist, misogynistic and homophobic outbursts, an anti-abortion stance, praise for the dictatorship of 1964-85, a promise to place military men in cabinet posts and to reduce gun controls, his approval of police shootings and his support for the death penalty, hit all the headlines. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

The Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, Lula, imprisoned by the ruling class on the most dubious evidence of corruption, but who led the polls from prison, was banned from standing. The rapidly appointed candidate for the PT, Fernando Haddad, won 29.28% of the votes. Haddad ran with Manuela d'Ávila from the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) as his vice presidential candidate.  A second round for these two leading candidates will be run on 28 October. That campaign is already seeing previously unknown levels of violence against Bolsonaro’s opponents.

Bolsonaro built his career by directly attacking human rights. What was less clear to the voters was Bolsonaro’s recent conversion to free-market economics that won him the support of international investors. Bolsonaro had voted consistently in Congress against fiscal austerity, cuts in government costs and the pension reform. Now he aims to cut the economic role of the state in order to achieve his boast of a lower income tax rate. In a knee-jerk reaction, the Brazilian stock markets rose the day after the election result. Yet, in a mixed bag of proposals, Bolsonaro aims to privatise state companies but limit foreign ownership of natural resources. Thus he has qualified the idea of further privatising Petrobras, the 64% state owned oil company. He represents the ideas of a frustrated section of the national bourgeoisie, struggling to contain the demands of the working class, yet bitter at the loss of assets to imperialism. Many big owners have thrown their lot in with imperialism, and play along with the plunder of Brazil’s labour and natural resources, but other big manufacturers and commercial capitalists, along with the petty bourgeoisie, still actually believe in a strong national solution to their woes.

Support for Bolsonaro is highest among rich Brazilians and evangelical Christians, but it’s impossible to win 46 million votes from 147 million voters without politically seducing millions of the poor. A massive and prolonged social media campaign fed on lies has marked the PSL’s electioneering, along with encouraging a rejection of ‘the establishment’, and condemnation of communism and ‘social Marxism’. If, as seems likely, Bolsonaro wins the second round, he will continue to play the demagogic anti-corruption card to the poor, whilst attacking them and conceding as much as possible to the wealthy.

Bolsonaro promises an independent central bank, a universal income, low inflation, reform of the labour laws, tariff cuts and free trade deals, capital market reform, and an end to the statutory spending that takes some 90% of the national budget. This, of course, is mostly fantasy, since the class struggle in Brazil, evidenced by last June’s transport strikes, will determine to what extent the demands of capital will succeed in a Congress now fractured with 30 parties. Indeed, Bolsonaro has already vacillated in interviews over the pension reductions promised to international money lenders, that the current corrupt stand-in president Temer failed to deliver.

Bolsonaro’s market loving economic adviser, University of Chicago-trained ‘liberal’ financier Paulo Guedes, was ready to become the finance minister, and would cut the social spending promoted by the PT between 2003 -16. However, on 10 October, in the first week of the second round campaign, the press revealed that Guedes was under investigation by public prosecutors on suspicion of alleged fraud, that he mismanaged R$1bn of money put into his investment funds from state bodies, including Petrobras, Banco do Brasil, the postal service Correios and state bank Caixa Econômica Federal, starting in 2009 to 2013. He had already contradicted Bolsonaro over privatisation and taxes in press conferences.

The Congressional election results

Thirty four parties joined the electoral battle. Of the 81 seats in the Federal Senate, 54 were open for election to serve eight-year terms.  All 513 members of the Federal Chamber of Deputies were elected by proportional vote to serve four-year terms. The result in Congress determines the freedom of action of the new President. Elections took place for three Senate seats in each of the 26 states, plus the Federal District Governor’s and Vice Governor’s role.  State Legislative Assemblies (state deputies) and Federal District Legislative Chamber (district deputies) elections were also held, where the number of seats is based on population.

The PT lost 13 lower house seats but retained 56. The left-wing parties have already announced they’re going to be united for the second round. Between the PT, the PCdoB with nine Deputies, the Democratic Workers Party which has 28 Deputies - up from 19 in the 2014 elections - the Brazilian Socialist Party with 32 Deputies (having lost two from 2014), the Socialism and Freedom Party with ten deputies up from five, there will be 135 Deputies plus 17 Senators determined to block a wave of reactionary legislation proposed by Bolsonaro, but they constitute  barely over a quarter of all deputies.

In his campaign – ‘The People Happy Again’ - Haddad said he would try, like the first government of President Lula, to firmly control the budget, creating fiscal surpluses, but the commodities boom is spent for the moment, despite the rising price of oil and chemicals, so he is not in the same position. Given that he also wants to remove the statutory limit on state spending passed by President Temer, and finance spending by higher taxes on the rich, his room for winning over the middle classes is limited.

Bolsonaro’s PSL won 52 seats in the lower house, never having stood before, but starting with eight members who had shifted from other parties. The PSL attracted the vote of former supporters of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) of defeated candidate Geraldo Alckmin, which used to be the main PT rival, and some other smaller centre-right parties. The PSDB still retains 29 deputies.

The openly pro-market parties, the PSL plus the PSDB with 29 seats, the Democrats 29 seats, the Popular Socialist Party with eight seats, and Progressive Republican Party four seats, have between them 70 Deputies and 22 Senators. Thus the so called ‘centrist’ parties will hold the ground on legislation, but with the Senate clearly in the hands of conservatives, mostly with eight year tenures.

Bolsonaro won votes because he has declared ‘strong action’ against crime, and used an unscrupulous campaign of social media misinformation and TV appearance against his opponents. Hitherto a fringe politician, he was untainted by the wave of corruption charges that has seen more than 300 politicians and businessmen sent to the courts, with hundreds more to be investigated.   His slogan ‘Brazil Above Everything, God Above Everyone’ deliberately shadowed that of the reactionary marches that supported the imposition of the Brazilian dictatorship: ‘of the Family with God for Liberty’.

The attack on the environment

At the moment the election is his to lose, and if elected, it is certain that the ‘ruralistas’, the large land owners and their subordinates that control about one third of Congress, will happily vote for his withdrawal from the Paris agreement. A paved highway cutting through the Amazon to reduce forests again, and the opening of indigenous territories to mining, ‘relaxed’ environmental law enforcement and licensing is promised, since the Environment ministry will be abolished. He will attack Brazil’s federal environment agencies the Ministry of Environment, Ibama and ICMBio. He was fined for illegal fishing in 2012. International NGOs, such as Greenpeace and WWF, will be banned from the country, and Bolsonaro welcomes a strong alliance with the beef lobby.  He claims that indigenous land rights are part of a western plot to create separatist Amazonian states, which will leave nothing ‘for us’. His deputy, ex-General Antônio Mourão, has spoken of a new constitution without popular participation, and suggested that Bolsonaro could seize and centralise power, an echo of 1964.

Bolsonaro represents the desperate attempt to expand Brazil’s already dominant raw material and farming exports to ‘stabilise’ the national accumulation of capital. He is the result of a series of attacks on democracy, the latest stage starting in 2016 when Dilma Rousseff was forced out of the presidency for the way the state budget was presented, forced out by corrupt Congressmen and women, baying for an end to any restrictions on their lust for money grubbing. There was a simultaneous attack on Lula who was imprisoned. This sort of parliamentary coup has been successful in Uruguay, Paraguay and Honduras in recent years, with similar tactics pursued most recently in Venezuela and Nicaragua. All obstructions to the open pillage of land and labour to push forward the accumulation of private wealth are targeted. The class struggle in Brazil will deepen, and socialists everywhere must stand with the oppressed in this battle.

 

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