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What Does Banning Bolsonaro Mean for Brazil’s Politics?

Photo of Bolsonaro Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro last month was banned for running for office until 2030. // File Photo: Facebook Page of Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil’s electoral court on June 30 voted to bar former President Jair Bolsonaro from running for office until 2030 because of his conduct during last year’s presidential election campaign. The court ruled that Bolsonaro had violated election laws and spread baseless fraud claims about the country’s voting system. How will Bolsonaro’s ban affect the next presidential elections? What does it mean for the country’s far-right movement, and who, if anyone, is likely to step in to fill the void?

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “Brazilian democracy was severely strained by the past four years of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. But the nation’s political norms and institutions, although badly battered, have survived and demonstrated an encouraging degree of resilience. It is too early, however, to predict the longer-term health of Brazil’s politics. Yes, the first six months of Lula’s leadership have been largely constructive, but recall that he was elected by a narrow margin of two percentage points. Bolsonaro would have surely defeated any other candidate, and current polls reveal he retains the enthusiastic support of upwards of one-third of the electorate. On the brighter side, his recent eight-year ban from elected office sharply reduces Bolsonaro’s political muscle and his capacity to mobilize his supporters. After a decade of sluggish growth and rising inequality in Brazil, a strong economic performance would probably be the best remedy for restoring confidence in government and reducing the poisonous levels of polarization and bitterness that still threaten democratic politics. The economy has recently taken a surprising upward turn, and Finance Minister Fernando Haddad has gained increased visibility and authority (and surfaced as a plausible presidential candidate should Lula decide not to run). Still, most expectations are for a slowdown over the next few years, mirroring a likely global economic retreat. Elevated crime, violence and gang activity could also present potent challenges to democratic politics in Brazil. It is worth noting, however, that Lula’s questionable remarks on regional and global issues (often particularly irritating to Washington) are largely ignored in Brazil, where voter attention focuses on the home front. Brazil has succeeded in weathering a horrible storm that endangered the country’s democracy, but the challenge is far from over. It may take some years before Brazil fully returns to a steady democratic path.”

Mariano Machado, principal analyst for the Americas at Verisk Maplecroft: “As Brazil’s political ecosystem seeks new equilibrium after the divisive 2022 election, we expect that the conservative movement will capitalize on the chance to transition into a new phase–and leadership–away from Bolsonaro’s belligerent style. Although the former president is treated as the main right-wing leader in the country, a silent race to replace him as the torchbearer for Brazil’s conservatives is well underway. In particular, key figures wishing to enter the 2026 presidential race appear to be focused on the construction of a post-Bolsonaro age. This group includes governors Romeu Zema (Minas Gerais), Cláudio Castro (Rio de Janeiro), and Tarcísio de Freitas (São Paulo). Besides being a rising star, the latter was also Bolsonaro’s former infrastructure minister. But Brazilian history has abundant examples of political resuscitation, and Lula’s comeback is in itself evidence that Bolsonaro cannot be ruled out quite yet. Indeed, he will wield influence as the potential heirs of the right-wing movement seek to strike a balance with the twin realities of acknowledging that Bolsonaro alone will not be able to deliver a win, yet needing his endorsement to run in his stead in 2026. This will increase friction as the conservative space transitions into its next leadership cycle. Perhaps the most illustrative example of things to come was the public rife between Bolsonaro and Freitas in the aftermath of the first round of legislative approval to reform the country’s tax system.” 

Lucas Fernandes, political analysis coordinator at BMJ Consultores Associados: “Jair Bolsonaro’s ban introduces significant changes to the dynamic of Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections. Bolsonaro has garnered immense popularity, and it is expected that a majority of his base, particularly his far-right supporters, will continue to back him. Importantly, Bolsonaro has not faced arrest and is expected to maintain a substantial presence in the forthcoming electoral contests, starting with the 2024 mayorship elections. While Bolsonaro will play a significant role, he has not designated a clear successor, potentially giving rise to internal disputes within the right-wing political spectrum. These disputes may materialize between moderate and radical politicians, further exacerbating the existing fragmentation within the movement. Should these internal conflicts remain unresolved, there is a possibility of multiple right-wing presidential candidates emerging, thereby diminishing the prospects of victory in comparison to a scenario where the right wing rallies behind a unified presidential candidate. As Brazil progresses toward the 2026 presidential election, new figures may emerge as potential contenders for Bolsonaro’s constituency. The current frontrunners are São Paulo Governor Tarcísio de Freitas, Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema and former First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. Both Freitas and Zema have garnered positive evaluations from market agents and hold leadership positions in the two most populous Brazilian states, which can serve as crucial political assets. However, Michelle Bolsonaro, despite never having held an elected political office, enjoys significant popularity and has a strong appeal among evangelical voters, who represent a substantial portion of the constituency.” 

Beatrice Rangel, member of the Advisor board and director of AMLA Consulting in Miami: “The decision will deepen ongoing political polarization in Brazil. Most followers of former President Bolsonaro will simply believe that he is the victim of a political vendetta concocted in the presidential palace. They will thus seek to coalesce around a leader who offers the best prospects of undoing this offense. And, while conservative political forces hold a majority in Congress as well as in the Senate, and lead many governorships and city halls, Bolsonaro’s party does not lead these movements, nor does he hold a clear majority in those spaces. Thus, many conservative leaders see themselves as Bolsonaro’s successor. My guess is that Bolsonaro will continue to mobilize conservatives in Brazil, in particular those in the mining and lumber industries. Recent polls identify a proportion of young adults leaning toward conservatism, and in particular rejecting President Lula’s leadership. This segment of the population supports younger and far more structured leaders like Tarcísio de Freitas, Romeu Zema or Nikolas Ferreira. In the end, Bolsonaro will be seen as the pioneer who moved the country toward a more accomplished democratic engagement through his failings more than through his accomplishments.” 


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