Brazil's Bolsonaro: a tropical Trump?

4 min

Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Impetuous, admiring of military men, pro-guns, social media-savvy, accused of misogyny and racism: Brazil's far-right presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro shares more than a few qualities with US leader Donald Trump.

But is it a fair comparison?

The 63-year-old candidate with the carefully coiffed hair trounced the first round of presidential elections last Sunday, winning 46 percent of the vote.

Many Brazilians are taken with his calls to patriotism, his anti-crime rhetoric, and the image he projects as an outsider who wants to drain the swamp.

In the second round run-off on October 28 he hopes to ride to victory the conservative wave surging under him to beat Fernando Haddad, the leftist standing in for former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, incarcerated for corruption.

For Joao Feres Junior, professor in political science at the University of Rio de Janeiro, the Bolsonaro phenomenon has some points in common with the one that took Trump into the White House.

Like Trump, "he's an actor, a candidate who understands nothing about public politics, who talks poorly, but for whatever reason has a fairly inexplicable charisma that attracts a certain type of electorate -- an electorate with fascist tendencies," he said.

But Junior noted a major difference in supporters. "A large part of Trump's electorate is made up of poor whites. In Bolsonaro's case, his electorate is more white people from the middle and upper middle class."

- Some key differences -

Guilherme Casaroes, professor in political science and international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said "Bolsonaro represents an anti-establishment spirit. In that sense, he resembles Trump a lot."

But whereas the American heir to a real estate fortune had no real political experience, and got deferments from military service, Bolsonaro served as an army captain before going on to a long-term political career, sitting in Brazil's congress for the past 27 years.

Bolsonaro also doesn't come close to the wealth attributed to Trump. He has declared assets worth $495,000 which, though detractors say they are far undervalued, are eclipsed by the several billion dollars Trump boasts he has amassed.

Bolsonaro doesn't have a private jet or luxurious beach resorts.

The political machinery supporting them are also very different.

Trump is the figurative head of the United States' big Republican Party, while the Brazilian fronts a little-known small ultra-conservative group, the Social Liberal Party, which he joined in March.

"Bolsonaro was welcomed by a very small party and campaigned with little TV time and very little public funding," noted Casaroes.

He was also forced off the campaign trail a month before the first-round election when he was stabbed in the abdomen by a lone assailant while waving to a crowd.

That attack, however, didn't hurt Bolsonaro's performance. Far from it.

Instead, the politician, long chary of speaking to journalists, turned even more intensively to the social media channels he had already been actively using, drumming up support through his seven million Facebook followers and four million Instagram fans.

That mirrored Trump's own prolific use of Twitter -- and the US leader's oft-repeated accusation that he was a victim of media bias and "fake" news.

- Admiring Trump -

It should be no surprise then that Bolsonaro has great admiration for the president of the United States.

"Trump is an example for me. I'm aware that distance separates us, but I intend to get closer to him for the good of Brazil and the United States," Bolsonaro said in October 2017 as he made a trip to Florida.

There's another connection: In August, Bolsonaro's son Eduardo Bolsonaro -- who was re-elected to congress on Sunday -- met with Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist who recently has been trying to export his brand of far-right nationalism to Europe and elsewhere.

Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" also has an echo in Bolsonaro's own appeal to patriotism.

"Brazil above everyone, God above all," is the Brazilian's slogan, calibrated to draw in the millions of evangelistic church followers in Latin America's biggest nation.