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Brazil: Bolsonaro's broken promises

One year ago, right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil's president. But he has failed to fulfil many of the promises that helped bring him to power, experts say.

"Our country became incredibly polarized in October 2018," says Brazilian political scientist Jairo Nicolau of Rio de Janeiro's Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV) university. "Families would fight over politics." But he now has the impression that things have calmed down somewhat. Sociologist Demetrio Magnoli tells DW that while debate "on social media is still pretty heated," in society at large, "tensions have abated somewhat and social polarization has declined as well, in step with [President Jair] Bolsonaro's popularity ratings."

According to the latest numbers from Brazilian Ibope, Bolsonaro's approval ratings have dropped from 49% when he took office in January to 31% in September. About a third of correspondents said they were disappointed with the president so far. Magnoli describes the loss as "dramatic." 

A weak president

Magnoli says the Brazilian government has achieved very little. The executive appears surprisingly weak. After all, it was Congress and not Bolsonaro's government that came up with the recently passed pension reform. Magnoli says the government isn't driving economic either. He says that the parliament will probably devise the next economic reforms as well — even though, technically speaking, the Brazilian president holds a uniquely powerful position in the country. Magnoli, therefore, believes that "today we no longer have a presidential system but a semiparliamentary one."  

Bolsonaro is almost powerless against the parliament's strength. During the election campaign, he pledged to rid schools of ideologies, make abortion laws severe and allow all citizens to buy guns. Minorities, in particular, were scared of losing their rights. But very little has come of this, as parliament has blocked most of the president's plans.

Bolsonaro was criticized internationally for his response to wildfires in the Amazon

What's next for Brazil?

So, what will Brazil's future look like? Magnoli believes that if ex-President Lula is released from jail sometime soon, this could "shake up Brazil's political landscape." But he thinks "Lula's release could even ironically play into the government's hands, as Bolsonaro's support derives largely from people's rejection of Lula and the PT."

But political scientist Jairo Nicolau is certain that the Brazilian people will grow more accepting of the PT, in part because of revelations indicating that the trial against Lula was possibly manipulated, but also because Bolsonaro has so far delivered little of what he promised before taking office. Nicolau explains that "people wanted a change, but when that change does not materialize, people may reconsider; Lula will probably be seen in a more positive light today than he was a year ago."

For this reason, sociologist Magnoli gives a mixed assessment one year after Bolsonaro's election: "There is certainly hope that Brazil's economy will get back on track — but the government may also continue to grow more and more unpopular."

Vocabulary

Calmed down - acalmado

Somewhat - um pouco

Pretty heated - bem aquecido

Ratings - taxas

Dropped - caido

Take office - tomar posse

Devise - inventar

Pledged - prometido

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