As expected, Brazilian voters turned their backs on a decade of political scandal and offered a presidential mandate to right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro, who handily won a run-off ballot on Sunday against Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party (PT). For voters in the world’s fourth-largest democracy, Bolsonaro’s victory represents a quantum shift in the political spectrum as an estimated 45 million voted for the former paratrooper’s tough love campaign. The reality is that Brazil’s economic potential has been thwarted by a series of deep and far-reaching corruption scandals that have embroiled the PT, leading to criminal charges and the jailing of former leaders including ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and have tarnished the national reputation and image of the nation. Voters have had enough, and obviously decided that Bolsonaro and his straight-talking style is what Brazil needs right now.
Clearly, president-elect Bolsonaro faces a tough challenge to reset Brazil’s political culture. On the campaign trail, he promised swift and tough action, delivering a populist message with a tough-on-crime and tough-on-corruption message that struck a tone with voters fed up with financial scandals and a soaring crime wave. The reality, though, is that these nations have elected leaders in open and fair political contests, and the power of the ballot box cannot be ignored. Clearly, president-elect Bolsonaro now must build a broad coalition of support, one that will allow him to rein in the corruption that seems endemic in his nation. He must chart a course now that satisfies the voters who have placed their trust in his message of no-nonsense action in dealing with Brazil’s problems – but he must also be aware that he is a president that represents all Brazilians, not just those who bought into his campaign message.