Brazil starts new chapter under far-right Bolsonaro

T-shirts with the image of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on display for sale in Brasilia. Inaugurated yesterday, Mr Bolsonaro has vowed to eradicate graft, crack down on crime and open up Brazil's protectionist economy to the free market.
T-shirts with the image of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on display for sale in Brasilia. Inaugurated yesterday, Mr Bolsonaro has vowed to eradicate graft, crack down on crime and open up Brazil's protectionist economy to the free market.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRASILIA • Brazil entered a new chapter in the country's history yesterday, embracing a far-right President, Mr Jair Bolsonaro, whose determination to break with decades of centrist rule has raised both hopes and fears.

The former paratrooper and longtime lawmaker was starting his four-year mandate yesterday, as required by the Constitution, after a night of New Year's celebrations across the country. He takes office with a sky-high approval rating, fuelled by public expectations that he will be a new broom sweeping away chronic crime and corruption, and boosting an economy still limping after a record recession.

"I will bring in politics completely different from that which brought corruption and inefficiency to Brazil," he said late on Monday in an interview with Record TV.

The 63-year-old comfortably won an October election against Mr Fernando Haddad, a candidate from the left-wing Workers' Party that was in power between 2003 and 2016, but is now reviled after a series of graft scandals.

The Workers' Party icon, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is serving prison time for corruption. And his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for cooking the government's books.

In a ceremony marked by pomp and high security, Mr Bolsonaro was set to formally take over from centre-right Michel Temer, who succeeded Ms Rousseff but made little headway with needed fiscal reforms and ended up Brazil's most unpopular leader ever.

Mr Bolsonaro's supporters hope he will do better. He has promised to govern for all 210 million Brazilians, and had campaigned on vows to eradicate graft, crack down on crime, open up Brazil's protectionist economy to the free market, and put business interests ahead of environmental protection.

 
 
 
 

In his interview, he said "we will debureaucratise to the maximum possible" and "clean out" the government so its "weight" is cut back.

But there has been no sign of him dropping the bluff style that has earned him comparisons with US President Donald Trump, whom he admires.

Even before taking office, Mr Bolsonaro tweeted that he will issue a decree easing gun laws so "good" citizens can possess weapons to deter criminals. That worries many, who fear it could aggravate Brazil's rampant violence.

Mr Bolsonaro's track record of waxing nostalgic for Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship has also stirred some concerns, as have his past disparaging remarks about women, gays and blacks.

A more forceful foreign policy is on its way, with the new leader saying he will do all he can to challenge leftist-ruled Venezuela and Cuba.

Mr Bolsonaro has also said he will pull his country out of a United Nations global pact on migration, and he is considering whether to keep Brazil in the Paris climate accord.

But the new leader's supporters, more than 250,000 of whom were expected in Brasilia yesterday, expressed full-throated backing for Mr Bolsonaro.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2019, with the headline 'Brazil starts new chapter under far-right Bolsonaro'. Print Edition | Subscribe