Image courtesy of Giovana Fleck.

In 2022, Brazil faced one of its biggest threats to date: a deeply polarized presidential election with the looming threat of political violence, the spreading of fake news and conspiracy theories, and uncertainty about the future. This threat has come to pass as of January 9, 2023, as Bolsonaro supporters stormed the nation's government buildings, attacked officials and Lula supporters, and launched a series of terrorist attacks against the state. 

The terrorists stormed the congress building and Presidential offices to protest what they are falsely claiming is a “rigged election.” Critics are weighing in both domestically and abroad, condemning the violence as an “assault on democracy,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The 2022 election

For many, this violence is unfortunately unsurprising, given the escalating tensions in Brazil both before and after the election.

Incumbent far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was running for his second term, while former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a center-left candidate, sought to make a comeback after being released from prison and having the lawsuit against him annulled by a judge.

Lula won in the second round of voting, with a narrow 50.9 percent victory compared to Bolsanor's 49.1 percent. Bolsonaro was slow to concede defeat, waiting until days after the election to acknowledge Lula's victory.

However, even before the election, Bolsonaro had been sowing discontent in the nation — assuring his supporters that there was no way he could lose and that if he did, it was a sign of an unfair election system. After his loss, despite the acknowledgment, he began ramping up these allegations, insinuating the election was rigged and had been stolen from him. indeed.

Bolsonaro's political and military history

Elected in 2018, after over 25 years in the Lower House of Congress, Bolsonaro was born in a town called Eldorado Paulista, in the state of São Paulo, and started his political career after leaving the Army. In the late 1980s, he penned articles protesting the soldiers’ wages and gave an interview talking about a plan to plant bombs in military units in Rio to increase the pressure behind the demands. He was tried, and in the end, the Military Supreme Court claimed it did not have enough evidence to expel him, but the episode gave him enough publicity to be elected as a City Councilor in Rio. During his political career, the now 67-year-old ex-president became known for interviews and speeches defending the military dictatorship, saying that its error was “torturing and not killing” and displaying a cartoon in his cabinet door with a message addressed to the families of the disappeared: “Dogs are the ones looking for bones.” 

Bolsonaro began drawing more of the national spotlight after 2010 when he made homophobic and sexist remarks on Brazillian TV shows. In the meantime, three of his sons also entered the political arena.

Nine years ago, Brazilians staged massive protests and riots after the cost of public transport fares skyrocketed. Protestors from across the political spectrum marched to criticize Dilma Rousseff’s government — and their reasons for protesting were just as varied. Brazilians still struggle to understand those months in the streets and often have mixed opinions about the outcome.

Three years later, after winning a second term, Roussef was impeached after being accused of violating fiscal laws. Bolsonaro was among those who voted to impeach her within the Lower House and dedicated his “in favor” vote to a notorious torturer during the military ruling. 

Bolsonoro's agenda promised privatization and financial adjustments and loosened gun control legislation — though he was more effective with the latter. In August 2022, Brazil achieved 1 million gun registrations for collectors, shooters, and hunters — that’s more than the total number of arms in Brazil's Armed Forces.

During the COVID-19 pandemic that led to over 684,000 deaths in Brazil, Bolsonaro fought governors, argued against health measures like the use of masks and social distancing, and delayed the purchase of vaccines. He also encouraged people not to get vaccinated and has issued a 100-year secret seal on his own vaccination record.

The president is blaming these COVID-19 prevention measures on the high inflation and the increasing number of people facing hunger in the country. Ahead of the election, he is already voicing doubts about the safety of electronic ballots and the entire electoral process in Brazil.

Lula, on the other hand, uses the memory of people from his social programs that helped to address historical inequalities in the country, such as hunger and racial issues.

Over the last four months, Global Voices and our partners have been covering the election, increasing tensions in the country, and the current political landscape. Find our coverage here:

Stories about Brazil's fight for democracy

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