In 1993, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro strode to a podium in Brazil’s lower house and delivered a speech that shook its young democracy: He declared his love for the country’s not-so-distant military regime and demanded the legislature be disbanded.
“Yes, I’m in favor of a dictatorship!” Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, thundered at fellow lawmakers, some of whom had joined guerrilla groups to battle the junta that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. “We will never resolve grave national problems with this irresponsible democracy!”
On Sunday, Brazilians will cast ballots in a presidential election that could elevate Bolsonaro to the head of the world’s fifth most populous country. A political gadfly who has flitted through nine minor parties in a 27-year career, his views have changed little since that day in the capital of Brasilia.
But his jeremiad message – that Brazil is a dysfunctional basket case that needs an iron-fisted ruler to restore order – is resonating with Brazilians dispirited by the nation’s soaring crime, moribund economy and entrenched political corruption.
Violent criminals? Bolsonaro says shoot them all. Political enemies? Them too. Corruption? A military coup will drain the swamp if the judicial system won’t, he says. The economy? Bolsonaro wants to privatize state-run companies to keep politicians away from the till.