Four years have passed since Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. He won almost 58 million votes on a platform centered in anti-politics, with promises to drain the swamp and end “old politics.” Despite his clear history of him as a far-right Congress backbencher with a seemingly endless list of inflammatory and prejudiced declarations, a large part of the electorate felt comfortable in giving him their vote. An oft repeated phrase throughout the campaign was that bolsonarism offered “something different.”
After a full term of Mr. Bolsonaro in office, there is nothing unknown about what the far-right former Army captain offers as head of state. Carte blanche for Congress to control the budget, a concerted push to increase the number of guns in citizens’ hands, the dismantling of environmental protections, and a disastrous pandemic response.
But, as we saw in Sunday’s first round election, all of this did relatively little to shake his support nationwide.
Frontrunner and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the election on the day, with 6 million votes more than Mr. Bolsonaro. Furthermore, this was the first time an incumbent president has ever finished second in a first-round re-election attempt. Even so, Mr. Bolsonaro put up a much stronger performance than expected.
In fact, compared to the first round in 2018, he gained just under 2 million votes on Sunday.
And high-profile pro-Bolsonaro candidates in gubernatorial and congressional elections fared well, particularly in the Senate. The president’s Liberal Party will have the largest bench in both the lower and upper house of Congress for the next four years.
It is abundantly clear that Bolsonarism is a consolidated political force in Brazil, and will hold a significant share of influence on the functioning of the country regardless of whether the far-right incumbent manages to come from behind and win the October 30 runoff.