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Brazilian politics - Expert comment

Expert comment on the Brazilian elections from Dr Tom Long, assistant professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick.

“Even after the dramatic and frightening events on Thursday, Brazil's presidential election remains much as it was before leading right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro suffered a knife attack: a chaotic toss-up.

“Most of the candidates are left of center, meaning that if sympathy over the attack increases his support, it can only come from a few places: undecided voters or supporters of center-right Gerardo Alckmin. With nine candidates vying to make it through to the second round, Bolsonaro remains in a strong position given his small but loyal following and the division of his opponents. After Bolsonaro, several candidates are basically in a technical tie in the polls. Plus, there is lots of reason to be sceptical of the polling. The field is too crowded and not well differentiated given the almost certain absence of former president Lula.

“Voters are in an angry, anti-systemic mood. Nearly one in five say they will nullify their ballots according to some recent polls. That will almost certainly continue to fall, but the number of null ballots could be in the same range as the second place candidate.

“The Brazilian electoral system is incredibly complex. It's likely that there will be 30 parties or so in the next Congress. Whoever wins the presidency will have a weak position against this fragmented legislature.

“The key issues continue to be the polarization created by the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, anger at corruption, concern at increasing (and shockingly high) levels of violence, and austerity. There is a big divide between those who see austerity and market-based reforms as necessary and those who are fed up at years of budget cuts and see austerity as a boon only to the rich. The effects of austerity have been really intense -- unpaid police and teachers, universities shuttered, to name a few. They have also gained a new symbol with the destruction of the National Museum. Bolsonaro is capitalizing on this anger from one side.

“The question is whether voters turn to a moderate who can unify more people against Bolsonaro (Gomes or Alckmin), or whether a more critical voice is able to capitalize on the wave of dissatisfaction (Marina or Haddad).”


Tom Long is Assistant Professor in New Rising World Powers in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the Univerity of Warwick.

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