Tears filled Beatriz Simões’ eyes as she digested Jair Bolsonaro’s surprisingly strong performance in Brazil’s elections on Sunday.
Hours earlier, the 34-year-old publicist had been convinced that a hopeful dawn was looming with the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s next leader.
But as she stood in front of the São Paulo Museum of Art – where Lula had come to claim her fight for power was alive – Simões wept as she reflected on how those close to her had helped the outgoing president from extreme Brazilian right to exceed pollsters’ predictions.
“How come my friends, my relatives, the people who know me – who know that I am a black woman – always support the kind of thing that Bolsonaro supports? Simões asked as she and three friends grapple with the far-right’s seemingly deep hold on society.
“It’s terrifying, it’s just weird for us, it’s scary,” said Raquel Barbosa, a 28-year-old community manager whose mother-in-law was one of nearly 700,000 Brazilians killed by an outbreak. of Covid that Bolsonaro called “a little flu”. ”.
Bolsonarians trumpeted their movement’s stronger-than-expected performance, which saw their pioneer garner more than 51 million votes despite his international notoriety as an authoritarian-minded fanatic.
Lula won the first round with 57 million votes, or 48% of the total against 43% for Bolsonaro. But Bolsonaro’s surprisingly high share – pollsters had predicted it at 36% or 37% – shattered predictions that his re-election is out of reach in the Oct. 30 runoff against Lula.
“After what happened yesterday, I don’t rule anything out – absolutely nothing at all,” said Maria Cristina Fernandes, political commentator at the Valor Econômico newspaper. “Bolsonaro is not excluded.”
Bolsonaro celebrated what he said was “the greatest patriotic victory in Brazilian history” while his senator son, Flávio, hailed “a victory over the mainstream media, which has been relentlessly anti-Bolsonaro”. . The incumbent president triumphed in two key states in the southeast, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, which have more than 47 million voters.
Adding to the gradual pain, a wave of Bolsonarian hardliners were elected to Congress, with Bolsonaro’s liberal party claiming 99 of its 513 seats – the largest bloc in more than two decades. The winners are Eduardo Pazuello, the army general turned health minister accused of spoiling Brazil’s response to Covid, and Ricardo Salles, the controversial environment minister under whose leadership deforestation in the Amazon soared. sharply.
Damares Alves, the evangelical preacher who was Bolsonaro’s human rights minister, won a seat in the Senate, as did his vice president, Hamilton Mourão, his former science minister Marcos Pontes and his former security minister, Judge Sergio Moro.
“Bolsonarismo…became a political project with a beginning, a middle and an end,” Fernandes said. “The degree of conservatism they have managed to insert into Congress is something permanent and will take a very long time to reverse.”
Fernandes believed the results revealed a troubling disconnect between how the chatterboxes and Brazilian journalists viewed Bolsonaro and how the voters themselves felt. “The media and the world have been outraged by Bolsonaro’s conduct and handling of the pandemic… [But] people don’t share our thoughts,” she said. “There is a divorce between the press and the intellectual elites and the people.”
Consuelo Dieguez, the author of a book on the Brazilian right called The Serpent’s Egg, attributed Bolsonaro’s performance to voters’ deep and widespread rage over the corruption scandals that marred the Workers’ Party’s 14 years in power. (PT) by Lula. “Their reasoning is, I don’t want the PT, I don’t want that crook Lula, and I don’t want these leftists coming out and defending things like gay marriage and abortion,” she said. declared.
Bolsonaro’s vote had also been bolstered by billions of dollars in welfare for the poor. “He doled out so much money – and even so, he failed to win,” Dieguez said, dismissing Sunday’s portrayal of the election as an absolute triumph for Bolsonarism.
The president’s son and political heir apparent, Eduardo Bolsonaro, was re-elected to Congress but received 1 million fewer votes than in the last election and fell behind one of Lula’s proteges, the leftist Guilherme Balls. Other leading bolsonarists such as Douglas Garcia and Sérgio Camargo failed.
“It wasn’t a win for Bolsonaro – he did poorly,” Dieguez insisted. “It’s the first time a presidential candidate has come second in the first round. Lula almost won – he missed by very little.
Dieguez still believed Lula would beat Bolsonaro when 156 million Brazilians return to the polls later this month. Third-place candidate Simone Tebet is tipped to back Lula in return for a cabinet post.
But for now, Bolsonaro’s unforeseen push has dealt a painful and unforeseen blow to his enemies.
“How is this possible? How can people still approve of this…and think Bolsonaro is a decent option?” demanded Simões as Lula and his supporters returned home expressing a mixture of deflation and defiance.
“My tears are tears of exhaustion,” Simões said, “but not of surrender.”