Special Briefing: The Turmoil Surrounding Brazil’s Presidential Election

Special Briefing: The Turmoil Surrounding Brazil’s Presidential Election

By OZY Editors

Supporters of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — in jail since April for corruption — demonstrate demanding his release.


Because Brazil’s October election could be the most unpredictable the country has seen since its return to democracy in the 1980s.

By OZY Editors

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.


What happened? Brazil’s Oct. 7 first-round vote in the presidential election may still be weeks away, but its outcome has never been more uncertain. Last Thursday, the controversial far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was hospitalized after being stabbed in the stomach with a carving knife during a rally. Then, on Tuesday, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in prison for corruption and recently barred from running by the top electoral court, was replaced on the Workers’ Party ticket by the former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad. 

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Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro gestures after being stabbed in the stomach during a campaign rally on September 6, 2018.

Source RAYSA LEITE/Getty

Why does it matter? Silva was leading the race early on, but according to recent polls, Bolsonaro — who is unlikely to return to campaigning while he recovers from his stab wounds — is the current front-runner. Bolsonaro’s bump in the polls and his opponents’ hesitance to attack their bedridden rival may make him the candidate to beat, but none of the candidates has a clear majority. If nobody wins 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, moderates may rally to block Bolsonaro in a second-round election scheduled for Oct. 28.


“An order from God.” The suspected attacker, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, claims he was “fulfilling an order from God” when he stabbed Bolsonaro. He may be painted as unstable, but the incident occurred amid notable political violence — left-wing councilor Marielle Franco was assassinated earlier this year, and Silva’s campaign bus was targeted by gunfire in March. Violent rhetoric also has been expressed by Bolsonaro, who declared at one recent campaign rally that after his election his supporters would “kill them all,” in reference to left-wing Workers’ Party supporters and leftists in general. 

“Trump of the Tropics.” Bolsonaro is a firebrand politician often compared to U.S. President Donald Trump. Bolsonaro’s tough stance on crime, his proposal to lift the nation’s ban on firearms and his anti-abortion stance have struck a chord with the country’s conservative and evangelical Christian voters. Meanwhile, those on the left decry his messaging, which they say includes misogynistic and racist sentiments and his apparent admiration for the nation’s pre-1985 military dictatorship.

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Fernando Haddad, presumed to be former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s replacement candidate in the presidential elections, arrives to take part in an extraordinary meeting of the National Directorate of the Workers Party in downtown Curitiba this week.


Persistently popular. Despite being in prison and barred from running, Silva often managed to lead in polls before he dropped out of the race. The former head of a metalworkers union, Silva founded the left-wing Workers’ Party in 1980. The first major Socialist Party in Brazil’s history brought together blue-collar trade unionists and leftist intellectuals — and during Silva’s two-term presidency from 2003 to 2011, with help from a commodities boom, fought economic and racial inequality. In 2017, Silva was convicted of corruption for accepting a beachfront apartment from a construction firm in return for public contracts — a conviction he says was politically motivated. 

Pinch runner. The relatively unknown Haddad is hoping Silva’s remaining popularity is transferable. So does the Workers’ Party, which has even adopted the slogan: “Haddad is Lula.” The São Paulo native and son of a Lebanese shopkeeper is a trained lawyer and economist. He served as the minister of education under Silva before becoming his vice presidential running mate. Like Silva, he faces his own legal troubles: He is accused of involvement in bribery from another construction company. 


The Brazilian Spring That Never Arrived, by Vincent Bevins in the Atlantic

“When Brazilians of all stripes took to the streets five years ago, the whole country seemed united in its demand for more from their government. Instead, they wound up with much less.” 

Brazil’s Disastrous 2018 Presidential Race Teaches Key Lesson For All, by Glenn Greenwald and Victor Pougy in the Intercept 

“What the Brazilian media is now doing is so extremely corrupt and so transparently deceitful that – no matter how low your standards are for judging them – no words suffice to express the revulsion that it merits.” 


Brazil: Far-right Frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro Survives Stabbing Attack

“They made Bolsonaro a martyr. I think the left shot itself in the foot because with this attack, Brazilians will simply end up electing him.” 

Watch on France 24 on YouTube:

Brazil’s ‘New’ Middle Class Holds Key to Election 

“They may have risen up under Lula, but for many, corruption and crime have become a red line.” 

Watch on Financial Times on YouTube:


But what will the markets say? Investors have been closely watching the polls in economically troubled Brazil, with asset sell-offs following any news of Workers’ Party success. But such reactions may be premature: While Haddad has stuck with left-wing rhetoric throughout the campaign — including railing against the country’s credit-tightening banks — he could prove more moderate in office. After all, while mayor he was able to obtain an investment-grade rating for his city, São Paulo, and was willing to support deeply unpopular bus fare increases.