Most Western news consumers are aware that, in Brazil, far-right presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, came close in Sunday’s national election to winning 50 percent of the vote needed to win without a runoff (he received 46.2 percent). Bolsonaro is now highly likely to prevail on October 28 against his opponent, the liberal Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, who finished a distant second with 29 percent. That result, by itself, is stunning, given that Bolsonaro is an undiluted, explicit authoritarian in the model of the Philippines’s Rodrigo Duterte and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — one could easily say “fascist” even using the most narrow and rigorous sense of that term — who had been a fringe figure in politics for decades, but is now poised to assume the presidency.
But the consequences of Sunday’s election extend far beyond Bolsonaro’s likely victory. As I detailed on Monday, Bolsonaro’s extremist party, and others aligned with his ideology, took over Brazilian politics, winning at all levels, and in most regions, with a wave that was as engulfing as it was unexpected. And what makes all of this particularly remarkable is that it happened in a country that prior to this year — in four consecutive national elections beginning with 2002 — had elected the Workers’ Party led first by a firebrand labor leader (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) and then by a former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured for taking up arms against the country’s military dictatorship (Dilma Rousseff). It’s hard to put into words what a profound shift this is for the planet’s fifth most-populous country.
What is happening in Brazil matters not just because it’s a huge country with one of the world’s largest economies and oil reserves, but because the dynamics driving this extremism are similar and linked to the dynamics driving fundamental changes in other Western democracies, including the disappearance of the “center” in lieu of a far right (as well as a more progressive but out-of-power left). This chart — showing the change in the composition of the lower house of Brazil’s Congress from 2010 to 2018 — tells part of that story, with the “left” represented by red, the “center” represented by yellow, and the “far right” represented by blue: