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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Corruption in Brazil has allowed Bolsonaro to thrive

A lack of just governance and soaring crime provide fertile ground for right-wing populism

Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro greets supporers at a campaign rally in the district of Ceilandia in Brasilia. Evarusto Sa / AFP
Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro greets supporers at a campaign rally in the district of Ceilandia in Brasilia. Evarusto Sa / AFP

The victory of the populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election reinforces the growing sense that the world is slipping towards a new dark age, in which the politics of tolerance and globalism are being increasingly overshadowed by brusque and loutish posturing.

In Brazil, a diverse and multi-racial nation, it seems to make little sense that vast numbers are rallying to a former soldier who has made no secret of his contempt for women and a broad range of minorities. If that were not enough, he also openly admires the former military dictators under whom his country suffered for so long.

Yet Brazil is merely the latest domino poised to be toppled by a chill wind that is blowing through global politics – a storm driven not by logic or facts, but by visceral appeals to the darker side of human nature.

The new populism has found its greatest expression in the presidency of Donald Trump, whose divisive, isolationist politics have inspired others, including Mr Bolsonaro.

In his recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly – an organisation set up after the Second World War with the express purpose of preventing the world ever descending again into dangerous isolationist politics – Mr Trump shocked delegates with his denunciation of the “ideology of globalism”.

Many commentators have suggested the rise of populism can be attributed to economic hardships engendered by the recession of 2008. Brazil’s economy has suffered four of the roughest years in its recent history, and is widely believed to be heading into recession.

However, Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity has largely been buoyed by a widespread anger with the country’s political establishment, following revelations of endemic corruption and the impeachment of the former president Dilma Roussef in 2015. A stratospheric rise in violent crime on the country’s streets has also provided fertile ground for this tough-talking opportunist to till.

Lacking any faith in just governance, more than 49 million have voted for Bolsonaro. While this may represent a win for him, in the long term, placing such a man in high office will be the Brazilian people’s profound loss.