In the wake of a divisive campaign season, 55 percent of the Brazilian electorate elected Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency on Sunday. A far-right candidate, Bolsonaro ran on a campaign of eliminating political corruption and cracking down on crime.
But many Brazilians remain concerned about Bolsonaro — among other stances, he has vowed to loosen development restrictions in the Amazon Basin, expressed a strong anti-LGBT sentiment and has been accused of authoritarian tendencies. Dismayed by Bolsonaro’s viewpoints, some Brazilian voters started a movement over the course of the campaign challenging his candidacy: #EleNao, or #NotHim.
Geographically far but sentimentally close to their home country, many Brazilian NYU students closely followed the contentious election. With the election now over, these students’ sentiments mirror Brazil as a whole — a group which remains deeply divided over its nation’s future.
According to CAS junior and President of NYU’s Brazil Society Jose Bernardes, who supported Bolsonaro in the final round of elections, the race dominated discussion among Brazilian NYU students for the past month.
“The general reaction was balanced,” Bernardes wrote in an email to WSN. “Those who supported the #EleNao campaign, are somewhat disappointed for Bolsonaro, he really is a controversial figure, but the best for Brazil. Let’s see how it turns out, he should be better for the economy, but moral and social causes, maybe not.”
Though CAS junior and Bolsonaro voter Nathalia Schettino is unsure the President-elect will achieve all his goals, she remains optimistic that public opinion will hold the nation’s leaders increasingly accountable.
“Brazil has strong federal institutions and the people [are] very interested in politics,” Schettino said. “We protest, we make our voices heard… so I really think that our next president is well aware that the public opinion matters more than anything.”
Others feel far more pessimistic about Brazil’s future. Though Tisch junior Victor Dias Rodrigues is relieved the nation can now move on from the election, he is disappointed by the result, feeling that Bolsonaro cannot solve Brazil’s deeply entrenched national problems.
“I’m very, very sad honestly that Brazil is going down a dark path,” Rodrigues said. “We are already in a very dark place right now, don’t get me wrong, but we might go deeper into the abyss. I hope to God that doesn’t happen.”
CAS History Professor and Brazil scholar Barbara Weinstein shares Rodrigues’ disappointment and remains concerned minority rights may be increasingly at risk going forward.
“The fact that nearly 58 million Brazilians voted for someone who has openly disavowed the rule of law and democratic process, who has endorsed torture and murder, who has made overtly racist statements and has endorsed violence against women and LGBT people is worse than shocking,” Weinstein said. “It’s shameful.”
Although Schettino is more optimistic about Bolsonaro than Rodrigues and Weinstein, she agrees the nation now has an opportunity to come together. Though she remains frustrated with the extreme division the campaigns have incited — a few weeks ago, Bolsonaro was stabbed in public — she remains convinced Brazilians share common goals for the future.
“We cannot let this election reduce our country to two ideologies, two worldviews,” Schettino said. “I know we are all still tense with it all, but I believe we must not [lose] hope and our desire to keep on working for a better country.”
Email Alex Domb at [email protected]