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Brazil looks to conservative for promise of change

Braizl Protest-6

Demonstrators protests against former President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Brazil's political future could be decided this week when a court decides whether a rooftop apartment was slated for former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the front runner in polls for October's elections. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Global progressives are having an anxiety attack over the near-triumph Sunday of Brazil’s conservative presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

After years of corruption and recession, apparently millions of Brazilians think an outsider is exactly what the country needs. Maybe they know more than the world’s scolds.

Bolsonaro won a surprising 46 percent, just short of the 50 percent needed to win outright in the first round. He’s now favored over Fernando Haddad, a one-term São Paulo mayor who won 29 percent. The runoff is Oct. 28.

Bolsonaro, who has spent 27 years in Congress, is best understood as a conservative populist who promises to make Brazil great for the first time. The 63-year-old is running on traditional values and often says politically incorrect things about identity politics that inflame his opponents.

Yet he has attracted support from the middle class by pledging to reduce corruption, crack down on Brazil’s rampant crime and liberate entrepreneurs from government control.

He has stopped short of promising to fully privatize Petrobras, the state-owned oil giant, but his chief economic adviser says he would sell its subsidiaries, deregulate much of the economy and restrain government spending. On crime he has promised to restore a police presence in urban and rural areas that have become lawless.

Opponents claim Bolsonaro’s praise for the military, and sometimes for the military rule from 1964-1985, suggests he is a threat to democracy. But he isn’t proposing to change the constitution, which constrains the military at home.

On the other hand, Haddad wants to rewrite the constitution to include a constituent assembly along the lines of the Venezuelan model. He also wants to change how military promotions are made, giving the power to the president. This is from the Hugo Chávez playbook.

Haddad is the hand-picked candidate of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is serving a 12-year sentence for bribery but remains a hero of the left. Lula rode the commodities boom to popularity in the 2000s but he and his successor mismanaged the economy, and a corruption scandal involving Petrobas has tarnished much of the political class.

Bolsonaro’s small Social Liberal Party lacks the money and machine of Haddad’s Workers’ Party (PT), but Bolsonaro has momentum and on Sunday he also had coattails. The PT remains the largest block in the lower house with 56 deputies, but Bolsonaro’s party won 52 and gained four senate seats. The PT did well in its traditional northeast stronghold but failed to elect a governor in the rest of the country.

After so much political turmoil and corruption, it’s hardly surprising that Brazilians are responding to a candidate who promises something better.

The Wall Street Journal

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