Fed up with corruption, Brazilian voters eye outsiders

2017-04-19 15:47
Brazilian President Michel Temer. (Andressa Anholete/AFP)

Brazilian President Michel Temer. (Andressa Anholete/AFP)

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Rio de Janeiro - Brazilian voters are sharpening their pitchforks.

As a corruption scandal washes over the political class, anti-establishment sentiment threatens a revolt ahead of next year's general election, analysts say.

Around 100 politicians, including many leading figures, were placed under graft investigations last week. That was on top of many others already being probed in the so-called "Car Wash" scandal.

And Brazilians - similar to large parts of the electorates in countries such as Britain, France and the United States - are fed up with the status quo.

"They want change," David Fleischer, professor emeritus at the University of Brasilia, said. "You've opened a big chance for people who can say 'I'm not a politician, I've never been a politician.'"

The scale of the alleged corruption is staggering.

One third of the Senate was put under investigation by Brazil's Supreme Court last week, as well as a third of President Michel Temer's cabinet, and nearly 40 lower house representatives. All five living former presidents are under suspicion.

That threatens to tear up the previously well-established list of candidates vying to take over from Temer in the October 2018 election.

For example, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a firebrand leftist, faces no less than five corruption trials. Centrist pro-business candidate Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost the 2014 elections to Lula's protegee Dilma Rousseff, is equally tarnished, facing five investigations, including into alleged bribe taking.

'Brazil's Donald Trump' 

For now, Lula remains the easy leader in theoretical match-ups.

A February poll by the MDA institute gave him 30.5% of the vote, trouncing his rivals. Neves, for example, would get only 10%.

But Lula faces the potentially fatal setback of being found guilty and barred from public office or even jailed.

If voters then go looking for an outsider with clean hands, the big beneficiary could be Joao Doria, the newly elected mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city.

Hugely wealthy, a good communicator, and one time host of Brazil's version of "The Apprentice" game show, Doria has drawn comparisons to another attention-grabbing, reality TV-loving, non-politician: Donald Trump.

With the centrist PSDB party, Doria wrested Sao Paulo from Lula's leftist Workers' Party and presents himself as someone who gets things done. Crucially, he faces no corruption probe.

He has not declared a candidacy but other big beasts of the PSDB, like Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin, are tainted by "Car Wash".

In a new poll published Tuesday - commissioned by a pro-Lula trade union and carried out by Vox Populi - Doria registered a measly 5%. Yet that's before he has taken a single step.

Far right? 

Other candidates in that mould of centre-right business leaders could appear. There's also environmentalist Marina Silva who scored 11.8% in the February poll and is a perennial outsider figure.

But if change-hungry voters really want to go rogue, they may turn to federal congressman Jair Bolsonaro.

He may be full time politician, but he is so radically right-wing that he comes across as a wild outsider.

Bolsonaro has enthusiastically insulted gays, defended the use of torture, spoken up for Brazil's two-decade long military dictatorship, and yelled at a fellow member of Congress that she would not "deserve" rape.

Nevertheless, Bolsonaro is not on the corruption list. And as a tough-talking representative of the ever-more powerful evangelical right in Brazil, he's seen by some as a man who'd drain the swamp.

"We have to stanch the haemorrhage of corruption," he declares on his twitter profile.

In the February survey Bolsonaro was polling at 11.3%, a number confirmed in Tuesday's poll.

An anti-establishment rebellion could also extend to the legislature. Brazilians will be voting next year for two-thirds of the Senate and the whole lower house.

In 2016, the long-dominant Workers' Party took a pasting in municipal elections. The same may happen to other mainstays such as the PSDB and Temer's PMDB, analysts say.

"Fears are growing among members of Brazil's traditional parties that Operation Car Wash could destroy the political system as they know it," risk analysis group Stratfor said on Tuesday.


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