Massive “Not Him” demonstrations in Brazil a week before elections
People protest against Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. | Silvia Izquierdo/AP

Hundreds of thousands of women filled the streets of cities and towns throughout Brazil last Saturday, in massive demonstrations against a possible victory of the extreme right in the upcoming Oct. 7 national elections.  The slogan of the demonstrations was “Ele nao,” Portuguese for “not him.” There will be another huge mobilization on Sunday, Oct. 6, the day before the first round of the elections. The street mobilizations have been coordinated with a massive outreach via Twitter and other social media.

Not whom? The women’s mobilization was against the presidential candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party.  Both Bolsonaro and his vice presidential running mate, army general Antonio Hamilton Mourão, have been openly expressing views that threaten the rights of women, workers, non-white minorities and the poor.  Mourão’s statements have been exceptionally provocative, even going so far as to hint at a military coup d’etat .

Bolsonaro himself, a reserve military officer who has been recuperating from a Sept. 6 stabbing attack, has hardly been reassuring, suggesting that he and his followers would “not accept” an election defeat.  On numerous occasions, both Bolsonaro and Mourão have expressed admiration for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, saying it was necessary to prevent a communist takeover.

Bolsonaro and Mourão have a militant right-wing following among better-off Brazilians and members of right-wing Evangelical Christian Churches.

The Minister of Defense, who is the head of the Brazilian armed forces, General Joaquim Luna e Silva, chimed in on Sept. 21, saying that his troops would “accept” the verdict of the electorate.  The reader is invited to imagine the reaction of people in the United States if the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were to make a statement “reassuring” the public that the military will “accept” the results of our own Nov. 6 midterm elections!

With just a week to go, polls are indicating that nobody will win a majority in the first round of the presidential election and that therefore there will be an Oct. 28 runoff between the two highest vote-getters.  Many on the left in Brazil had hoped that former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who remains extremely popular among the working class and poor because of the progressive economic and social policies carried out during his presidency, could have been a candidate.  However, he is trying to appeal a corruption sentence, based on dubious accusations, and the courts finally ruled that for this reason, he could not run.

So Lula’s Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) made the bold move of selecting its own man, former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, as its presidential candidate, with a legislator from the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil), Manuela D’Avila, as his running mate.

In the four presidential elections which the Workers’ Party has won in the past (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014), the vice presidential candidate was drawn from political groups much further to the right, an exercise in ticket balancing.  Whether a necessary maneuver or not, this has brought some bad results.  In the last elections, in 2014, the victorious presidential candidate was the Workers’ Party’s Dilma Rousseff, and her vice presidential running mate was Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democratico Brasileiro).  Taking advantage of some economic difficulties, Temer ended up stabbing Rousseff and her supporters in the back, leading the charge on her 2016 impeachment, taking the reins of the presidency himself, and then moving forcefully, in coordination with the whole of the Brazilian right, to dismantle the social welfare programs that had made Lula and the Workers’ Party so popular in the first place. Temer is not running for re-election, because these actions and also very credible corruption accusations have made him one of the most unpopular politicians in Brazilian history, and the target of massive protests by labor unions and others.

So in Lula’s and Rousseff’s four successful election campaigns, the ticket was balanced with vice presidential candidates to the right of the presidential candidates. Now, with the Haddad-d’Avila ticket, this is reversed.    Whether this daring change of tactics will pay off will now be seen.

What are the polls saying?  As the clock runs out, Bolsonaro is still ahead, but Haddad has been steadily catching up with him.  The respected Datafolha poll’s latest results, issued on Oct. 1, show 28 percent of voters saying they will vote for Bolsonaro, while 22 percent said they’d vote for Haddad.  The polling entity Ibope  and others show roughly similar results, with Haddad gaining steadily.  The many, many other candidates are being left behind in the dust.  Center-left candidate Ciro Gomes of had 11 percent in the Datafolha poll, while all the other candidates of left, right and center were in single digits.

So it looks very much as if Bolsonaro and Haddad will be the biggest vote-getters next week, but that neither of them will get anything like the 50 percent plus one vote needed to be elected in the first round.  Bolsonaro and Haddad will, therefore, go to the runoff on Oct. 28.  The remaining thirteen candidates include leftists, rightists and centrists.  Whether they will endorse either Bolsonaro or Haddad in the runoff remains to be seen, and even if they do, another question is whether they will be able to get their followers to vote accordingly.  A factor favoring Haddad is the very high disapproval rate that polls show Bolsonaro suffering from, but all indications are that the second round will be close.

And so tensions will remain high. Can Haddad beat Bolsonaro? And if he does, what are the possibilities of a violent reaction from the far right, or even a military coup? And what will the Trump administration do if a presidential ticket headed by a socialist and a communist win the elections in the biggest nation in Latin America, and the fifth biggest nation in the world? Watch these pages.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.