On October 30, 2022, Brazil’s presidential race between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and ‘Lula’ da Silva came to a close, with Lula narrowly edging out a victory with 50.9% of the vote. As news agencies, foreign leaders and millions of people all over Brazil accepted the results of Brazil’s election, one figure remained notably silent: President Bolsonaro. Though he did not expressly concede, Bolsonaro half-heartedly signaled that the transition process could begin. Prior to the election result, Bolsonaro made baseless claims of electoral fraud, stirring up unrest among his supporters. However, Brazil still expects a smooth presidential transition.
Soon after the election, pro-Bolsonaro supporters began protesting against the election results and demanded military intervention. Protesters then blocked Brazil’s major highways with barricades, with some policemen encouraging the blockades. Breaking his silence on the Tuesday after the election, President Bolsonaro “tacitly backed the protestors,” saying the “current popular movements are the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice about how the electoral process played out,” the Guardian reports.
In Paranagua, a commercially critical city in Brazil’s south, the port authority said vehicles transporting grain exports could not access the port due to protester blockades. Other blockades of trade routes across the nation also impacted the transportation of agricultural exports such as soybean, corn, fertilizer and meat. This has ignited concerns for Brazil’s fragile economy.
In a relieving turn of events for Brazil’s democracy and economy, officials and everyday citizens have helped to restore order following the elections. Brazil’s highway police cleared more than 600 of the barricades within three days of the election, easing fears of shortages across the country. Local soccer fans, some inspired to defend their democracy and others wanting to get to their games, also played an important part in clearing roads.
Fragility in Brazil
Brazil’s stability is of paramount importance as the world economy threatens to enter a recession. Although world inflation could rise substantially through 2022, inflation in Brazil started to ease in August 2022. Food and supply shortages could significantly raise the price of everyday goods, sending the country’s economy into a tailspin. According to the World Bank, 28.4% of Brazil’s population lived in poverty in 2021 and a political struggle with economic damage could exacerbate poverty levels in the country.
A New Presidency Brings Hope
President Bolsonaro’s successor, Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, promised to prioritize poverty during his previous four years in office. During his presidency from 2003 to 2010, Lula created one of the most successful conditional cash transfer programs in modern history, Bolsa Familia. By making welfare conditional on health checkups and children’s school attendance, the program reduced extreme poverty by about 25%. This made Lula immensely popular among Brazil’s poor, with most of his support coming from the two poorest regions in Brazil: the north and northeast.
Although President Bolsonaro kept a modified version of Bolsa Familia under the name Auxilio Brasil, his efforts have seen significantly less success. In 2019, Bolsonaro reduced the number of program beneficiaries, precisely when impoverished citizens needed aid the most, during the COVID-19 pandemic. President-elect Lula put this issue at the forefront of his campaign and victory speech, promising an end to hunger and an increase in the minimum wage.
Brazil’s Defense Ministry also published its own report on November 9, 2022, which “did not point to the existence of any fraud or inconsistency in the electronic voting machines and 2022 electoral process.” The report did, however, bring to the forefront shortcomings in the electoral process and outlined suggestions to strengthen it.
The end of Brazil’s election drama comes as a comforting conclusion for the country, especially given the many issues it still has to contend with. Still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, a prolonged political struggle would stretch the economy to the limit while exacerbating tensions that the election has laid bare. Despite the temporary scare, the rapid response of Brazil’s institutions and people to the protests reassures outside observers of the country’s commitment to democracy. Due to his past successes, President Lula’s reign brings hope of reduced hunger, lower inequality and decreased poverty.
– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Wikipedia Commons