After the presidential election, which Brazil?


The radical right is now a fully-fledged actor in a democracy whose foundations it threatens.

Anaïs Fléchet, lecturer in history at the University of Paris-Saclay and Olivier Compagnon, professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Latin America

Suspense until the last moments of the counting, difference of less than 2% of the votes cast: Lula’s victory was played on a thread. After a campaign of unprecedented violence, the relief is immense for half of Brazilians, in whose eyes democracy regains its rights at the end of the sequence of destabilization initiated by the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff in 2016; and around the world, where record deforestation in the Amazon has raised fears of an even more environmentally destructive second term for Bolsonaro.

The polarization of Brazilian society raises questions, however. If Bolsonaro has admitted his defeat half-wordly, the occupations of public space by his supporters suggest unrest until the inauguration of the new president in January. Above all, the broad coalition led by the Workers’ Party (PT) will have to negotiate fiercely to build a majority within an assembly marked by strong progress on the far right.

The occupations of the public space let foresee troubles until the investiture.

The preparation of the 2023 budget will be the first test of strength, in a context of economic gloom and social emergency, where 33 million Brazilians are in a situation of food insecurity. If it is too early to know how Lula will meet these challenges, his election may appear as a « replay » of history. Sentenced for corruption, imprisoned for 580 days, prevented from appearing in 2018 and then cleared by the courts, the historic leader of the PT embodies all the art of comeback in politics. Faced with Bolsonaro’s authoritarian project, the memory of his first two terms, marked by strong economic growth, ambitious social programs and the affirmation of Brazil on the international scene, was mobilized during the campaign, just like that, more distant , fights against the military dictatorship.

In Belo Horizonte, Lula thus recalled the memory of the popular demonstrations prefiguring the return to democracy in 1984-1985. These effects of continuity should not mask the profound renewal of the political scenario that has taken place over the past decade. Benefiting from the patronage relays of a large part of the Evangelical Churches, whose exponential growth has reconfigured the relations between religion and politics, the radical right is now a fully-fledged player in a democracy whose foundations it threatens.

Contrary to the demonization strategy of a Marine Le Pen or a Giorgia Meloni, the use of highly divisive speeches and the institutionalization of political violence, in a country where structural inequalities have altered support for democratic consensus, augur difficult times once the euphoria of Lula’s victory has faded.

Each of the two candidates obtained high scores in certain regions and very low in others, in a Brazil cut in four.

Hervé Théry, Emeritus Research Director at CNRS-Creda

After the October 30 election, we heard a lot of talk about Brazil being cut in two. It is indeed politically, between the supporters of the two candidates who clashed, those of the outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and those of the former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. But what is true politically is not so when we examine the maps of the electoral results, where we see that Brazil is cut in four: each of the two candidates obtained high scores in certain regions and very weak in others, with very clear oppositions.

The vote for Lula in the Nordeste is not a surprise; not only is he himself a native, but when he came to power he, if not created, at least greatly strengthened the bolsa família, a system of allowances for families with the lowest incomes, which particularly benefited this region, the poorest in Brazil.

The very high level of the vote for Jair Bolsonaro in the South region, and in particular the states of Santa Catarina and Paraná, is also not surprising; they had already voted massively for him in 2018, because they refused to vote for Lula, whom they accused of being corrupt. There too nothing surprising in a region where immigrants of European origin (German and Italian mainly) are numerous and particularly sensitive to the qualities of sincerity and honesty. It is no coincidence that the anti-corruption campaign, known as “Lava Jato”, had started in Paraná.

It remains for Lula to bring the citizens together and reduce the antagonisms between the regions.

The propensity to vote for the incumbent president in the Central West region is also very logical. This is where the front lines of deforestation are located for the benefit of cattle breeding and the production of soybeans, corn and cotton. The pioneers spearheading it are completely in line with it. These herders and farmers, willingly armed to defend themselves and conquer new lands, were often followers of the Evangelical Protestant Churches, where material success was tangible proof of divine grace. They are therefore fully representative of the « three Bs » on which Jair Bolsonaro relies: beef, ball and bible.

The fourth quarter is made up of the Sudeste region, where the most populated states of the country are located: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. This is where the election was decided: by being less distanced there than Fernando Haddad in 2018, Lula managed to win the few hundred thousand votes that made the difference and allowed him to be elected, to correctness. It now remains – as it has already begun to do – to try to bring together the citizens of the two camps and to reduce the antagonisms between regions with such different standards of living, social compositions, values ​​and aspirations.

For further The podcast Brazil, a dictatorship (1964-1985), with Anaïs Fléchet (Concordance des temps program of March 2, 2019), on

To read Brazil, by Hervé Théry, Armand Colin editions, 2012.


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