2018 General Elections in Brazil: A Forecast

A year from now, Brazilians will go to the polling stations for their country’s general elections. They will elect their new president and Congress. What can we expect?

Brazil is also known as the ‘eternal country of the future’, a title which implies that this country has strong potential, but never actually seems to live up to it. Currently, the largest and most populated country of South America suffers from several issues. Among these are severe corruption (such as the Lava Jato or ‘Carwash’ investigation), an economic crisis, increasing violence, and a strongly decreasing faith in democracy as a political system. According to Latinobarómetro, support for democracy in the country fell by 22 percent from 2015 to 2016; from 54 percent to 32 percent respectively. Furthermore, 55 percent of the population would not be opposed to a non-democratic government if there was a guarantee that this government would solve the country’s problems.

On top of this, Brazil, not unlike many other countries, suffers from polarization and a strong political divide. Since the impeachment of now ex-president Dilma Rousseff from the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in September 2016 and the inauguration of her former Vice President, now President Michel Temer from the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), tensions have risen in the country. With elections now only a year away, and a new president who faces many challenges, we should offer close consideration to some of the political directions the largest country in South America could follow.

Likely options for Brazil

Although the PMDB has provided Brazil with most of its presidents since 1985, the upcoming elections will most likely see this historical precedent overruled. The image of the PMDB is tarnished by its association with President Temer, who currently holds an unprecedentedly low approval rating of 3 percent. The reasons for such dreadful ratings largely stem from the unpopularity of the economic reforms proposed by the Temer administration. These include, most notably, pension reforms which would end early retirement for public employees, along with various other stringent austerity measures. Furthermore, Temer has been accused of facilitating widespread corruption. Ruling out strong support for the PMDB means that there are three other likely options for Brazil: populist ex-president Lula da Silva of the PT; a candidate of the center Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB); or a populist right-wing alternative in the form of Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula da Silva currently enjoys strong support despite facing charges of corruption (Lava Jato) and electoral fraud (Mensalão). Recent polls have put him in the lead. Lula enjoys strong support among the economically weaker parts of society due to his proposed social programs such as the Bolsa Família. Although the Bolsa Família is in fact the result of the merging of several different social programs, some of which were initiated under the Cardoso (PSDB) administration (1995–2003), Lula has received most of the credit for its implementation. While he can count on high levels of support from specific segments of society, Lula also faces strong opposition from other segments. On top of this, the legal procedures currently being enacted against Lula could prevent him from even being allowed to run for president.

An alternative to the PT is the PSDB, Brazil’s social democratic party and the party of former President Cardoso. Cardoso and the PSDB are widely given credit for solving the hyperinflation crisis in Brazil (which reached up to 3000 percent in its worst year), through the implementation of the Plano Real or the Real Plan. The PSDB is the strongest centrist contender for the 2018 elections. This party will likely push some of the reforms proposed by Temer and will be the most market-friendly option, making it a tempting choice for more economically liberal Brazilians. However, the reforms proposed by Temer are widely unpopular: expressing support for these could also be a reason for Brazilians not to vote for PSDB candidates.

The third and last option we will look into is that of the ‘populist’ right, represented by well-known politician Jair Bolsonaro, currently a member of the conservative Partido Social Cristão (PSC). Bolsonaro, a candidate profiling himself mainly on societal and security issues, is sympathetic towards the former military regime which ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985. With a considerable proportion of Brazilian society not necessarily opposed to a ‘non-democratic’ government, it is not unthinkable that Bolsonaro could gain a sizeable percentage of the vote among those Brazilians who look back positively on military rule. When it is considered that Brazil witnessed 58,000 violent deaths in 2015 and over 100 police deaths in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone between January and August of 2017, Bolsonaro’s strong stance on security issues could become a distinct selling point in the 2018 elections. Bolsonaro’s strong and antagonistic opinions, however, could also mean that he faces a high rejection rate.

Whether a candidate from the PT, the PSDB or the PSC will come out as victor during the 2018 elections in Brazil, it is clear that the new president will have to address many structural issues. Uniting the Brazilian people and reducing the political polarization in the country will be necessary in order to face the daunting tasks of reducing rampant violence, restoring faith in the current political system and reforming the economy to battle the ongoing crisis.

The general elections in Brazil will take place on 7 October (first round) and 28 October 2018 (second round).

Photo by Ulysses Rj