Beyond the Headlines: Implications of the Brazilian Elections

The Beyond the Headlines @BUPardeeSchool, or BtH, series at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University continued on November 8, 2018, with a conversation on the recent 2018 general elections in Brazil. 

The discussion, entitled “The Brazilian Elections: What Are the Implications?” featured panelists including Prof. Carlos Gustavo Poggio Teixeira, Researcher and Professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil, and Boston University Professor of Political Science Taylor Boas. The conversation was moderated by Julie Klinger, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School.

General elections were held in Brazil in October 2018 for national and state offices including PresidentVice President, and National CongressRio de Janeiro Congressman Jair Bolsonaro finished first in the first round of the presidential election, and in a subsequent run-off with former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, Bolsonaro was declared the winner with over 50 percent of the popular vote.

Bolsonaro is a member of the Partido Social Liberal (PSL), a right-wing conservative political party in Brazil. Since Bolsonaro’s entrance into the party, the PSL has changed much of its ideologies, abandoning its former socially liberal policies and keeping its economic liberal policies while at the same time adopting socially conservative policies.

Comparing Bolsonaro’s victory to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, Texeira said that he believes both Bolsonaro and Trump are symptoms of broader societal change.

“Trump and Bolsonaro — they are symptoms, they are not causes. I think they are symptoms of deeper social, political, and cultural roots. They are a sign of something that is changing, they are not causes,” Texeira said. “Like Trump, every time Bolsonaro said something really outrageous the press would be all over him so he made the whole campaign about him. It’s the same thing as Trump, and the press fell for it like they did here in the United States.”

Boas said he believes that with the rise of both violence and corruption in Brazil in recent years, the electorate has looked increasingly outside of the political establishment for solutions to these issues. He said that Bolsonaro’s election serves as a lesson that degradations in the quality of democracy can eventually erode the consolidation of democracy.

“As these problems accumulate and get worse over time there is an increased willingness to look outside of the political establishment for solutions. Because the political establishment and democracy are linked you also see a normative decline for democracy,” Boas said. “In this context it shouldn’t be that surprising that a politician with a military background, who has talked about military intervention, and promises to get tough on both corruption and violence can get a lot of traction.”

Beyond the Headlines is a regular series at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies which seeks to cultivate informed conversations among experts and practitioners on issues that are currently in the news headlines, but to do so with a focus on intellectual analysis and on longer-range trends. Recent Beyond the Headlines discussions have focused on topics including the future of Pakistan, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmarpolitics of development research, and transnationalism and health in Asia.