Bolsonaro, the President Without a Party

Nov 29, 2021
11:16 AM

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro (Palácio do Planalto/CC BY 2.0)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity has fallen again. Fifty-seven percent of the population want him impeached, and his approval rating has plummeted to 19 percent, a record low. But other political forces seem little interested in taking the step forward and opening an impeachment process.

As 2022 approaches, parties are mobilizing to seek candidates for the presidential election in October and are more concerned with planning their own futures than the country’s. Despite Bolsonaro’s declining popularity, the streets are empty as various social movements have decided to demobilize. On the right, protests had very low attendance, and an undeclared veto against any individual or group not ideologically aligned with former President Lula da Silva of the Workers Party (PT) has left many camps on the left isolated.

However, the opposition against center-right activists and movements in the mobilizations against Bolsonaro did not prevent the PT from initiating talks with the former governor of São Paulo and former presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin to become Lula’ vice president.

For years labeled a “fascist” by PT militants and allied parties, Alckmin is a key figure in the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party but is about to leave the party to join the center-left Brazilian Socialist Party. Alckmin has emerged as a name capable of bringing together those who would be unlikely to vote for Lula but who do not want to see Bolsonaro re-elected, forcing a retreat from the anti-PT sentiment that helped elect the current far-right president.

During the governments of Lula da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, members of parties ideologically opposed to the PT (at least in theory) played a prominent role, so there’s nothing particularly new in Lula’s attempt to bring Geraldo Alckmin onto his boat.

Further complicating the presidential race is Bolsonaro’s former minister of justice and public security, Sergio Moro, who has launched his candidacy for president as a “third way,” even though in reality Moro is just a light version of Bolsonaro, giving him a chance of stealing votes away from his former boss.

On the other side of the presidential race, Bolsonaro himself is having a hard time finding a ticket to run on. Initially in talks with the Progressive Party, he almost agreed to join the Liberal Party (PL), led by Valdemar Costa Neto, who was convicted of corruption in a scheme involving the PT. But things have gone sour.

After what has been called by the press an “intense exchange of messages,” on Saturday, November 13, the day before he was supposed to announce his joining the PL, the President backed out. The exchange of messages was more than intense, with Neto telling Bolsonaro to “go fuck yourself and your sons.” The President wanted his son Eduardo to head the party’s directory in São Paulo, which Neto refused, saying: “You may be President of the Republic, but I am in charge of the PL.”

It is not uncommon in Brazil for political parties to behave as private fiefdoms of politicians who rule with an iron fist—often with the help of relatives—the state directories or the national directory. On social media, people are starting to wonder, not whether Bolsonaro has a chance of being re-elected or not, but if he’ll even be able to find a party to run with.

Should he find one, the President will have yet another problem: The Supreme Federal Court and the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) have been cracking down on politicians accused of spreading fake news during elections—and Bolsonaro has become a master in the art of spreading disinformation.

In late October, the TSE revoked the mandate of Paraná State Congressman Fernando Francischini of the far-right Social Liberal Party —a staunch Bolsonaro supporter from the President’s former party— for a video on Election Day 2018 in which he claimed that the electronic ballot boxes had been rigged to prevent Bolsonaro’s victory.

This is the first time that fake news has resulted in the stripping of a mandate, but both judicial institutions have warned that they will be closely watching next year’s elections.


While politicians squabble and the judiciary keeps after them to prevent fraud and the spread of fake news, the population is suffering from hunger, rising prices, and inflation. Now there’s news that the country is seeing a dangerous drop in vaccination rates.

Once a world model, vaccination coverage in Brazil has fallen to 1980s levels, threatening the reemergence of diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis B, and infantile paralysis may resurface with force. In 2015 Brazil boasted a vaccination coverage of virtually 100 percent; today it barely reaches 80.

The agency responsible for vaccination coverage has been brain dead for nearly five months since it’s former director resigned, and Bolsonaro shows no interest in finding a replacement—a reflection of Bolsonaro’s general disregard for science.

Meanwhile, the number slums has doubled since 1985, and carrying along urban and police violence, exclusion, and poverty. The favelas are regular targets of brutal police operations excused as part of a war against drug trafficking.

And according to a recent survey, Brazil ranked last in a list of 30 countries when it comes to drug policy, with high incarceration rates (especially of young Black men) and deaths resulting from conflicts between police, drug traffickers, and militias.


And as we might expect, Bolsonaro is constantly creating new controversies to survive and excite militancy among his supporters. Cue the ENEM, the National High School Exam, used to select those who will enter Brazilian universities and which the President has described as “start(ing) to resemble the government.” He then criticized the exam, questioning: “Does that measure any knowledge? Or is it political activism?”

Bolsonaro has denied interfering with the exam but criticizes exam questions that do not conform to his ideology. And several employees linked to the body responsible for the exam resigned in the middle of the month in protest at Bolsonaro’s meddling.

The exam, however, took place without major incident.


And going beyond the presidential provocations, another major scandal could shake the government. This time Bolsonaro has been accused of maintaining a “secret budget” to pay politicians to support his projects. Journalist Breno Pires explained that “with the backing of the government, allied congressmen and senators dictate the application of billions of dollars, according to criteria of individual interest, not technical, hiding their names, violating budget laws and transparency.”

The total amount of money involved reached 3 billion reais (or about $500 million) and swayed the Supreme Federal Court, by a vote of six to one, to suspend the transfer of money to allies. The scheme involved several deputies, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Artur Lira, as well as the Ministry of Regional Development and state-owned companies.


Despite all the political and health crises, one of the most important news stories in Brazil in November was the death of singer Marília Mendonça.

At the age of 26, her small plane crashed just before landing in the interior of Minas Gerais, where she was to perform a concert.

Her death made headlines for days in the country’s main newspapers and the commotion united millions of Brazilian fans of the singer, one of the most successful in recent years.


Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a journalist with a Ph.D in human rights (focused on migration and diaspora). His portfolio is here. Twitter: @Tsavkko.