duran7_MIGUEL SCHINCARIOLAFP via Getty Images_lula MIGUEL SCHINCARIOLAFP via Getty Images

Bolsonarism After Bolsonaro

While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been voted out of office, the forces that empowered him retain considerable economic, political, and cultural influence. In many ways, those forces will make or break President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s tenure.

SÃO PAULO – Brazil has elected a new president by electing an old president. The Workers’ Party’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who held the office from 2003 to 2010, defeated the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in the second-round runoff. But that does not mean what Bolsonaro represented has been defeated.

The mere fact that there was a runoff underscores the fact that Brazil’s electorate, like many around the world, is deeply polarized. Bolsonaro, whose appeal is particularly strong among the military and conservative Christians, received more than 51 million votes in the first round, and more than 58 million in the second. He also receives considerable behind-the-scenes support – financial and ideological – from powerful economic interests, especially agribusinesses. In fact, agribusiness accounted for 33 of the 50 largest donors to Bolsonaro’s campaign.

Agribusiness is a highly industrialized sector in Brazil, responsible for more than one-quarter of GDP and 48.3% of total exports in the first half of 2022. And its geographical reach is vast, covering much of the north above São Paulo; a significant swath of the southern states; two powerful Central-West states, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul; and Roraima in the north. Most of the income gains in Brazil during Bolsonaro’s presidency went to these regions, as the agricultural sector benefited from a devalued national currency and high international commodity prices.