His presidency appeared to confirm the claim. Polls consistently showed high disapproval ratings as he moved from controversy to controversy and crisis to crisis. All of this seemed to point to a likely first-round loss for Bolsonaro on Sunday – a correction of what critics hoped was a historical aberration.
But Bolsonaro has once again defied expectations.
Bolsonaro and Lula heading for the second round of the elections in Brazil
Not only did he top the polls on Sunday, winning 43% of the vote and a runoff against rival Lula, but his allies made windfall gains across the country. His party is now the largest in both houses of Congress. The candidates supported by Bolsonaro won 14 seats in the Senate, a chamber previously hostile to the president. Lula’s allies only won eight.
In the crucial states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – which together are home to a quarter of the population – the allies have shown similar strength. In Rio, Governor Cláudio Castro won nearly 60% of the vote to defeat his left-wing opponent. And in São Paulo, Lula’s home state, where former governor João Doria has frequently clashed with Bolsonaro over his response to the coronavirus, the president’s candidate beat Lula’s to take the lead ahead of a second round.
“We already have what we need to free Brazil from the authoritarianism, corruption and injustice that infuriates us,” Bolsonaro tweeted on Monday. “A deeper change is already beginning! These are not the people who should be afraid.
Instead of confirming Bolsonaro’s weakness, Sunday’s comebacks showed his surprising strength. Brazil has made it clear that it is not going back to the leftist politicians and leaders who ruled it before it came to power.
What you need to know about the elections in Brazil
“Bolsonarismo is strong and represents millions of Brazilians, taking root and spreading in Brazilian society,” said the Federal University of São Paulo. sociologist Esther Solano, who studies the president’s supporters. “Bolsonarismo has come to stay and may even go beyond Bolsonaro.”
The president still appears to be heading for defeat in the second round on October 30. Lula, who is seeking his third term as Brazilian president, beat Bolsonaro in the first round by more than 6 million votes, winning more than 48% of the electorate. He was just €2m away from getting the 50% he needed to win in the first round. The polls, if they are to be believed, always project a second round victory.
The country remains highly polarized, torn between two political giants drawn in part by personal and mutual enmity. But a majority of voters still said they would not vote for Bolsonaro. His bellicose rhetoric, his rejection of a pandemic that has killed more than 686,000 Brazilians, his acts of political warfare against ideological opponents – all of this remains a liability as the second round approaches.
But Lula’s movement and his supporters nonetheless seemed defeated in the face of a Brazil they did not recognize and an outcome they did not expect.
“I cried before,” said Larissa Paglia, 28, on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo on Sunday night. “We did not expect this result. Even if it’s good for us, we didn’t expect it.
Historians were less surprised. Brazil has an international reputation for a certain libertine approach to life – Carnival, string bikinis, Brazilian waxwork – but in truth it is a deeply conservative country where right-wing movements have long found a strong following by appealing to Christian values.
Bolsonaro against Lula: a referendum on the young Brazilian democracy
Proponents of Bolsonarism — with its call for individual freedoms and its valorization of the country’s vast conservative interior — reflect much of that discourse, said journalist and historian Pedro Doria. In the same way that former President Donald Trump tapped into historical sources of resentment in the United States, Bolsonaro found his footing by channeling latent grievances and fears.
“These ideas are deeply rooted in Brazil,” he said. “Sometimes we think those ideas are gone, but political thought is not something abstract that intellectuals paint in universities, but the ideas that people pass on to their children about what they think the society should look like.”
“This conservative way of thinking is deeply rooted in Brazil; he was never dead.
Now the movement is poised to shape events in the country for years to come. Seven of Bolsonaro’s former cabinet members, some of whom implemented some of his most controversial policy initiatives, have been elected to Congress.
One was former environment minister Ricardo Salles, who oversaw the dismantling of the institutions that protected the Amazon. Another was Eduardo Pazuello, who implemented Bolsonaro’s anti-coronavirus policies at the Health Ministry. Another was Damares Alves, his minister for women, family and human rights, who spent much of his time fighting culture war battles.
In Mato Grosso state, Luiz Henrique Mandetta – a health minister who clashed with Bolsonaro over the president recommending unproven drugs to treat coronavirus – was defeated by one of the former and loyal ministers by Bolsonaro.
“Even if Bolsonaro loses, the movement he has led so far will remain a powerful force,” the political scientist said. Matias Spektor, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. “It would curb the ambitions of a Lula administration because it would be able to block and make any movement more difficult.”
The Brazilian right is now dominated by bolsonarismo. What was left of the moderate right, said political analyst and columnist Fábio Zanini, was “decimated” in Sunday’s vote. Bolsonaro is the undisputed standard bearer.
“He was able to repeat some of what he did in 2018,” he said. “He’s the guy that conservative Brazilians now see as their representative.”
Pessoa reported from São Paulo. Paulina Villegas in Brasilia contributed to this report.