Brazil is a country located in the region of South America. The Labor Party that ruled Brazil for 14 years lost power in 2016, since the opposition dismissed the president. Former Vice President Michel Temer of the Middle Right Party MDB took over the helm of a country shaken by a deep economic crisis and a huge corruption scandal involving large parts of the establishment. Through the 2018 presidential election, Brazil took another firm step to the right: the victor, Jair Bolsonaro, has caved in to the military dictatorship and promised tough tackles against corruption and violent crime.
Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, 2019, was a relatively unknown congressman just months before the election. At the beginning of the election year, he switched from one small party to another, the Social Liberal Party (PSL), and became presidential candidate for it. Soon Bolsonaro drew attention to his message of law and order, not least via social media. Many voters are also attracted by his promises to fight corruption and the severe violence that has become an increasingly difficult scourge of society. At the same time, confidence in the traditional political parties is at the bottom.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Brazil, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Only half of the sitting congressmen succeeded in being re-elected in the elections held in October 2018. The election results also yielded the most fragmented congress so far, with about 30 parties in both chambers. The two largest parties – the Labor Party (PT) and PSL – each have just over 10 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The congress is considered to have made a clear move to the right, with an increased number of militaries and representatives of the influential agricultural industry as new members.
The election of Bolsonaro revealed a great polarization in the electorate, similar to that of Donald Trump in the United States. Many of the supporters are just as glowing enthusiastically as their opponents are upset.
The critics are amazed at Bolsonaro’s many derogatory statements about women, minority groups and homosexuals. He advocates torture and has lamented that the military junta did not kill more left-wing sympathizers, he is an outspoken climate skeptic and wants to increase the exploitation of the Amazon. Not least the latter also raises concerns in the outside world. Bolsonaro has threatened to follow Trump’s example and withdraw from the Paris agreement aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions. He advocates continued expansion of huge hydroelectric dams and opposes any land being left to indigenous people at all.
On the other hand, the supporters see Bolsonaro as a rescuer, aside from moral decay and financial difficulties. He wants to put the family at the center and use harsh methods for street gangs and other criminals. He promises to create new jobs and clean up the widespread corruption associated with the Labor Party’s “communism” and “gender ideology”.
Corruption has long been a scourge, but the bribery scandal that began to roll up in 2014 is unparalleled in Brazil’s history and has been found to have ramifications in several countries in Latin America.
The Workers’ Party in focus
All major parties have been accused of involvement in this, but it has harmed the Labor Party the most. The scandal has indirectly led both to the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff (2011–2016) and to the imprisonment of her representative, the popular PT politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2010). In March 2019, Rousseff’s successor Michel Temer was also arrested (see below). In total, hundreds of people have been prosecuted and 150 have been convicted of engaging in the corruption scandal.
This is sometimes called the Petrobrass scandal, after the state-owned oil company that was at its center, and the criminal investigation into Operation Car Wash (Operação Lava Jato) following the investigation of money laundering at a gas station that led the judiciary on the tracks. Sometimes mention is also made of Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction group, which is deeply involved – as is virtually every major construction company in the country. The construction industry is accused of paying billions in bribes to politicians, mainly within the former government coalition, to get lucrative construction contracts channeled through Petrobras. According to the prosecutors, subcontractors paid overpricing for Petrobras contracts and around 3 percent of the company’s revenue from large contracts should have gone directly to politicians, the Labor Party and its allies.
A large number of highly regarded people within Petrobras, among its suppliers and in politics have been identified as suspects. After increasingly loud demands from the public, the heads first rolled at the highest level within Petrobras: in February 2015, the oil company’s CEO and the entire management resigned. During the year, arrests and prosecutions followed by several people who held high positions in the Labor Party, and this came ever closer to both Rousseff and her representative Lula da Silva.
By the end of 2015, over 100 people had been arrested and yet the scandal rolled on. Among those who were also dropped are the chief of Odebrecht and other construction company managers, as well as several high-ranking politicians. Former President Lula da Silva’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu has been sentenced to 23 years in prison, the longest sentence to date (Dirceu had already been sentenced to another prison term of corruption in 2012). The Labor Party’s former treasurer, João Vaccari Neto, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Despite the growing scandal, Rousseff was re-elected in October 2014 (see Modern History). But just a few months after taking up her second term on January 1, 2015, over a million people demonstrated her demands for her departure. The critics claimed that she must have known about the bribes. The opposition demanded that she be brought before national law, that is, a legal process to get her deposed.
Eduardo Cunha was the driving force in the attempts to get the president dismissed. He was the Speaker of the House of Commons and a PMDB member, but already announced in the summer of 2015 that he had joined the opposition. The situation was complicated by the fact that Eduardo Cunha was also suspected of corruption in the multi-million class, within the framework of the Petrobras scandal. In the spring of 2016, the Supreme Court closed Cunha from the Presidency and in March 2017 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Dilma Rousseff was not accused of involvement in the Petrobras scandal, but of having manipulated budget figures during the 2014 election year. Temporary loans to the state finances appeared to make the country’s economy much stronger than it was. This is, according to many, common and not illegal, though possibly inappropriate. But the opposition initiated a process to bring her to trial. In spring 2016, a national court process began and in August of the same year she was finally deposited (see also Calendar). Rousseff and her supporters claim that she was subjected to a political coup, which was facilitated by outraged moods as a result of the Petrobras scandal.
When Rousseff was shut down, Vice President Temer became president. His party PMDB (MDB from 2017, see Political system) had previously been part of the PT-led government coalition, but broke the cooperation as criticism against Rousseff grew. Temer formed a right-wing government with about ten parties, including the former leading opposition party Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and Progressive Party (PP).
New corruption charges
Temer was criticized from the outset when the more than 20 ministers he appointed were all men and all white, even though less than half of the residents considered themselves white. The fact that several of the ministers were under investigation within the Petrobras legacy did not make things better. In the course of a few weeks, two ministers had also been forced to resign because of corruption charges. Rousseff and many of her supporters claim that the underlying purpose of the entire judicial process against her was to prevent further investigation of the corruption.
In the spring of 2017, corruption charges were also directed against President Temer. It was reported that Temer would have been involved in trying to “buy” silence from the imprisoned former President, Eduardo Cunha. An investigation was initiated against Temer and demands were made for him to resign or be dismissed. Temer is the first incumbent president in Brazil to be charged with criminal offenses. But in order for the president to stand trial, a two-thirds majority is required in the first step for that in the congressional House, the Chamber of Deputies. Unlike when charges were filed against Dilma Rousseff, no such majority was reached in the two polls held, in August and October 2017. Temer thus remained until Bolsonaro took office, despite having less support in opinion polls than any previous president. Almost three months later,
Lula in prison
Another former president, Dilma Rousseff’s representative Lula da Silva, has already been sentenced to prison for corruption. He was first jailed in July 2017 and jailed in April 2018. Despite this, he was named Labor Party candidate in the presidential election that year. Both Lula and his supporters continued to claim that he is innocent, and continued to try to run a legal process. Only a month before the election, Lula withdrew her candidacy. He was sentenced in February 2019 to another corruption case. In addition, Lula is under investigation for, among other things, abuse of power, money laundering and obstruction of justice. In November 2019, he was released from prison and remains on par until his case was threatened by a higher court (see Calendar).
The Labor Party candidate in the presidential election instead became Lula’s Vice Presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, former mayor of São Paulo but far from as famous and popular as Lula. His rival in the decisive round, Jair Bolsonaro, was far more unknown to the general public. But Bolsonaro stormed into the opinion months before the election. When one month remained for the first round of elections, Bolsonaro was attacked at an election meeting and knife-cutting difficult. He then spent weeks in hospital but successfully continued his election campaign, now almost exclusively via social media. In the first round of voting, Bolsonaro received as much as 46 percent of the vote and was thus close to winning directly. His party PSL rushed from a mandate to 52 in Congress and became the second largest party, only slightly smaller than the Labor Party. The continued electoral movement was characterized by dirt throwing and false accusations and claims. In the decisive round, Bolsonaro received 55 percent of the vote against 45 for the Labor Party’s Fernando Haddad.
Bolsonaro took office as President on January 1, 2019 and started a series of measures to turn politics right (read more in the Calendar).
Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.
READING TIP – read more about Brazil in UI’s online magazine Foreign
magazine: A year of Bolsonaro: fires in the Amazon and scandals (2020-02-06)
All Christians in Brazil do not have the same agenda (2019-03-12)
Churches set the agenda when Latin America turns right (2019-02-18)
Jair Bolsonaro a test for Brazil’s democracy (2018-11-14)
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Brazil / Federal Republic of Brazil
republic, federal state
Head of State and Government
Jair Bolsonaro (2019–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Labor Party (PT) 56, Social Liberal Party (PSL) 52, Progressive Party (PP) 37, Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) 34, Social Democratic Party (PSD) 34, Republican Party (PR) 33, Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) 32, Brazilian Republican Party (PRB) 30, Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) 29, Democrats (DEM) 29, Democratic Workers Party (PDT) 28, Others 119 (2018) 1
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Labor Party (PT) 70, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) 66, Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) 54, Social Democratic Party (PSD) 37, Progressive Party (PP) 36, Republic Party (PR) 34, Socialist Party (PSB) 34, other 182 (2014) 2
79.7% in the October 7, 2018 election
presidential and congressional elections 2022
1.refers to the Chamber of Deputies
2. refers to the Chamber of Deputies; During the term of office, PMDB changed its name to MDB