The Biggest Winner Of Brazil’s Elections: The ‘Beef, Bible, And Bullets’ Movement – Analysis


By Hari Seshasayee

If most analyses of Brazil’s recently-held elections are to be believed, there seem to be two contradictory takeaways from the 2 October elections: One, that Bolsonarismo, a loosely-knit movement with incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro at the helm, is the biggest winner; however, despite these gains, former President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva is most likely to pull ahead in the second round on 30 October.

This raises the question: Is Bolsonarismo truly the biggest winner of these elections? In some sense, yes—Bolsonaro’s allies won many seats in Brazil’s congress, and some were also elected as governors. The candidate to receive the most votes for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies is 26-year-old Nikolas Ferreira, a Bolsonaro ally. Yet, Bolsonaro’s allies do not control either house of Brazil’s congress. That laurel rests with the Centrão, a big-tent group of parties that do not subscribe to either right- or left-wing politics.[1]

It could be argued that the biggest winner of the election is Brazil’s conservative political movement, underpinned by the “beef, bible and bullets” trifecta.[2]Bolsonarismo remains an ambiguous movement, represented by an erratic group that has pledged alliance to Bolsonaro. However, Brazil’s conservative political movement is far better defined and has gathered momentum over the past few years. It began as an anti-PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers’ Party) wave and has morphed into a serious national political force. But what will become of Bolsonarismo if Bolsonaro is no longer Brazil’s president? Will Bolsonaro’s allies remain loyal to him, or become neutral, independent or even switch sides? After all, Brazil is notorious for party-switching, and this trend is unlikely to change anytime soon.

This brings us to the next point: will Lula win the next round of elections?

Yes, a Lula victory seems the most likely scenario. Lula has already received endorsements from some key figures in Brazil, including two candidates who did not make it to the next round, Simone Tebet and Ciro Gomes (who together received 7.2 percent of the vote), former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (a member of a conservative, right-wing party), and also Pedro Malan and Edmar Bacha, architects of Brazil’s Plano Real and the country’s economic recovery in the 1990s. Even the British magazine, The Economist, has endorsed Lula, asserting that the only way to win is for him to “move closer to the centre”.

Will there be a military coup, or an institutional crisis, in Brazil? 

In the aftermath of the first round of elections, some questions of uncertainty still hang in the balance: Will we see violent protests after the second round? Will Bolsonaro refuse to leave the presidency if he loses? Will there be a military coup? Will the country experience an institutional crisis?

These gloomy predictions are common, even more so in the western media, but they can often be exaggerated. The elections were conducted smoothly, with no signs of violence or unfair play, and no hint whatsoever of a military coup. Lula won 48.43 percent of the vote, just under the 50 percent threshold to win in the first round, and Bolsonaro came close with 43.20 percent.

Sometimes, civil society actors provide a more accurate depiction of what to expect in politics. Amidst discussions of the possibility of a military coup in Brazil, the country’s most famous creative collective, Porta dos Fundos,[3] published two comedic skits that showed military officers plan a coup d’état, one in Brasilia and another in Rio de Janeiro. In both cases, plans for a coup fizzle out completely—in Brasilia, the military officers decide that spending time with family during the Independence Day holiday and blockbuster events such as  Brazil’s carnival and music concerts are more important than a coup; in Rio, the officers quickly become discouraged by the notion of taking on the militia and mafia in Rioand instead organise a little barbecue for military officers at a local club with beers on ice.

These comedic skits were spot-on and reflect the sentiment of the nation. The top brass of the Brazilian military even gave reassurances that a coup is out of the question, with Reuters confirming that “there is no way military commanders will risk getting involved in an adventure.”

The truth is this: Brazilians are fed up with the constant cycle of political, economic, and social crises that have troubled the country since 2013. Average Brazilian citizens as well as government institutions have battled economic recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, job losses, inflation, currency devaluation, and rising levels of violence for much of the past decade. Even if Bolsonaro refuses to vacate the presidency, Brazilians want a peaceful transfer of power, and this notion has been echoed by the Supreme Court, Brazil’s electoral authority, political leaders, and also the military.

The uncertain future of Bolsonarismo and a possible Lula government

Although Bolsonarismo is the talk of the town right now, its future remains uncertain. The current elections have helped institutionalise Bolsonarismo, and many Bolsonaro allies now wield influence in Brazil’s congress and as governors, which was not the case in the previous 2018 elections. Whether this loosely-knit group will be united in passing reforms and legislations related to gun-control, liberalisation of the economy, and more appeasement of the “beef, bible, and bullets” lobbies is yet to be seen. Another challenge is leadership: if Bolsonaro is no longer the face of the conservative political movement, will any other political leader take up the mantle, perhaps Bolsonaro’s sons Eduardo, Flávio or Carlos?

We must remember that Brazil’s conservative political movement is larger than Bolsonarismo—it began before Bolsonaro came to the limelight and will continue even after Bolsonaro’s political career.

If Lula is elected president, he will not be able to govern as effectively as he did between 2003 to 2011. For one, he will not hold a majority in either house of congress, and will also have to contend with opposition governors and rivals such as Senator Sergio Moro, who was instrumental in Lula’s arrest back in 2018. Lula will also likely court more centrists and conservatives to build consensus—probably by appointing moderate or even conservative economists to appease big businesses.

Lula’s popularity has seen many ups and downs, from being the face of Brazil’s economic success in the early 2000s to the corruption-tainted, jailed politician in 2018. His image has been resurrected in 2022 as a better alternative to Bolsonaro, becoming the first candidate to garner more votes than the incumbent Brazilian president.

The next round of elections on 30 October is not a race for the presidency, instead, it is a fight to cement a political legacy. Lula is fighting to redeem himself as one of the most popular leaders in Brazilian history, and Bolsonaro is fighting to secure his place as the face of Brazil’s ‘beef, bible, and bullets’ conservative movement.

[1] Although the Centrão does not subscribe to any ideology, they do tend to swerve more to the center-right.

[2] ‘Beef’ here refers to the influential agricultural lobby in Brazil; ‘bible’ denotes the large conservative Christian movement that brings together conservative Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics; and ‘bullets’ refers to the pro-gun lobby and those who support a more aggressive state approach to combat violence and drug trafficking.

[3] Porta dos Fundos is highly popular in Brazil, and has a YouTube channel with more than 6 billion views, as well as an international comedy Emmy and has produced content for Netflix, HBO, and Comedy Central.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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