Brazil Gears Up for Second Round of Elections As Candidates Pursue Competing Platforms

11 October 2018

On Sunday 7 October, Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) received 46 percent in the first voting round, lacking the majority needed to avert a second round contest. He will now face the Workers' Party (PT) candidate, Fernando Haddad, on 28 October, who came in second with 29 percent. The election is widely considered one of the most high-stakes that Brazil has faced in years, with significant implications for the country’s international positioning on trade and environmental cooperation, as well as for domestic governance. 

The elections in Latin America’s largest economy have already exposed the deep polarisation within the country, as candidates lay out opposing policy and political positions in their efforts to win the electorate and succeed Michel Temer of the Democratic Movement Party (MDB). Whoever wins later this month will take office next January. 

Competing visions

After the results were known, Jair Bolsonaro spoke on Facebook Live, calling for unity heading into the second round. “Together we will reconstruct our Brazil,” he said. 

He also questioned the outcome’s accuracy, suggesting voting irregularities: "I am certain that if this hadn't happened, we would have known the name of the president of the republic tonight." 

Regarding his policy views, the right-wing candidate has said that he would cull back government ministries, such as by combining multiple ministries to form a bigger economics ministry, and pursue a stringent anti-corruption and anti-crime agenda. 

Additionally, the candidate has also pledged to withdraw Brazil from the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change, which experts warn would devastate the unique Amazon region, while also creating additional hurdles for international efforts to limit global temperature increases relative to pre-industrial levels. (For more on international climate action, see related story, this edition) 

Bolsonaro has also indicated that he would roll back environmental protections and fines for violators. Furthermore, he has endorsed a privatisation-focused economic agenda, while reducing import tariffs and other trade barriers, granting greater latitude to the country’s central bank, and increasing the mining of oil and other reserves, according to a briefing prepared by the European Parliamentary Research Service. He has also been critical of UN institutions, and critics note that the details of his economic agenda are mostly unclear. 

Bolsonaro is also known for his ultra-right and populist views, and has faced repeated criticisms of racism, homophobia, and sexism due to his comments and policy positions. He has also indicated that he does not intend to adopt a more neutral tone going forward and has often, and controversially, praised Brazil’s past history of military dictatorship that ended in the 1980s. 

Fernando Haddad, who served as mayor of São Paulo from 2013-2017, is contesting Bolsonaro for the presidency on behalf of the Workers’ Party, having entered the race last month to replace imprisoned former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula was ruled ineligible to run due to a corruption conviction. Last month Haddad faced corruption charges of his own, though these do not prevent him from participating in the presidential contest. 

Going forward, Haddad says he will seek the backing of voters who opted for the other candidates in the first round, though whether his former opponents would support him against Bolsonaro is not yet clear. “We want to unite the democrats of Brazil, a broad and deeply democratic project, but that untiringly pursues social justice," he said on Sunday.

Approaches to international relationships 

The two candidates have also expressed differing assessments of international and regional trading partnerships, particularly involving regional coalition Mercosur and major emerging economy partners in Asia. 

For example, while Bolsonaro has called for reviewing existing regional trade partnerships and focusing on trade accords that he says would be of greater value to Brazil, he has also said that the South American economic giant should act to tamp down on the influence of regional customs union and trading bloc Mercosur. He has also criticised Venezuela’s membership in the group, though Venezuela is currently under suspension. 

Bolsonaro has further called for restricting foreign investment in strategic sectors, such as energy and mining, and warned against being overly dependent on major trading partners such as China, while at the same time questioning some of Brazil’s current cooperation efforts with other developing countries. 

Meanwhile, Haddad has praised the BRICS coalition of which Brazil is a part, which also includes Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil is due to host the next summit of BRICS leaders in 2019, taking the helm from South Africa. Haddad has also pledged to deepen ties with fellow Mercosur members, according to comments reported by Xinhua.

"The first thing we have to consider is the BRICS countries, which are very important markets for Brazil, and we need to strengthen bilateral and multilateral agreements with those partners in order to create jobs," he said. 

On boosting ties with fellow Mercosur members Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, Haddad indicated that he is already in contact with officials from some of those countries to that effect, particularly given the potential for supporting regional trade. 

The election comes as Mercosur and the EU are in the process of trying to finalise a trade deal within the context of a wider Association Agreement, an effort that has been underway for the better part of two decades. While Haddad has expressed interest in a deeper relationship with Europe, Bolsonaro’s position on the subject is not immediately clear. 

ICTSD reporting; “Jair Bolsonaro 'will not moderate rhetoric' in push for Brazil presidency,” THE GUARDIAN, 8 October 2018; “Brazilian stocks soar the most since 2017 after far-right candidate wins first election round,” CNBC, 8 October 2018; “Bolsonaro wins first round of Brazil’s presidential poll,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 8 October 2018; “Brazil Workers Party VP candidate Haddad charged with corruption,” REUTERS, 4 September 2018; “Brazil's far-right Bolsonaro says 'polling problems' cost him outright victory,” SBS NEWS, 9 October 2018; “Second vote looms after far-right candidate fails to secure majority– as it happened,” THE GUARDIAN, 8 October 2018; “Who is Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Stabbed During Presidential Campaign?” THE EPOCH TIMES, 6 September 2018; “Brazilian presidential candidate Haddad vows closer ties with BRICS, Mercosur,” XINHUANET, 4 October 2018.; “Exclusive: Brazil's leading candidate would cut environmental fines – advisor,” REUTERS, 10 October 2018.

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