Brazilians watched a new world crash in like a tidal wave on Sunday evening.
The release of the first results of Brazil’s presidential election were even quicker than expected, thanks to electronic voting machines used across most of the country. Just over two hours after polls closed, the country’s top electoral court announced the first official results:
With 88.44% of the votes counted, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was leading with 55.7%.
It was over before it began. Bolsonaro was Brazil’s president-elect.
Outside of his beach-side gated community in the upper-class Barra da Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, thousands of supporters chanted and cheered. They sang the national anthem. They danced and waved Brazilian flags, or wrapped themselves in them. Fireworks crackled endlessly overhead, beneath the buzz of a trio of helicopters, and above the crashing waves, just across the beach.
The party stretched for blocks. The face of Brazil’s next president etched on countless yellow t-shirts worn among the crowd.
The celebrations rolled on into the late evening.
“I’m so happy. Everything is going to get better,” said Lilia Pereira, a business manager from Bolsonaro’s neighborhood, with a Brazilian flag draped around her shoulders. “We are tired of all of the corruption, of all of the stealing. Brazil is a beautiful country, full of resources, and it deserves someone in power who knows what he’s doing.”
Those in the crowd celebrated what they believed would be an end to the corruption, and a kick-start to the economy. They chanted against the left and the Workers Party, whom they blame for Brazil’s problems, and praised Bolsonaro’s plans to crack down on insecurity.
Across the Guanabara Bay, in Niteroi, a rally of Bolsonaro supporters was greeted by an impromptu parade of military vehicles. People cheered on the sidewalks as the soldiers and their trucks rolled through the streets.
Not so far from these ecstatic celebrations, millions of Brazilians sat dumbstruck in living rooms behind televisions sets, or before laptops and cell phones.
They had carried a distant hope in recent days as Bolsonaro slipped in the polls and prominent long-time Workers Party critics — including former Supreme Court Judge Joaquin Barbosa, former attorney general Rodrigo Janot, and YouTube star Felipe Neto — threw in the towel and backed the leftist candidate, former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.
But that hope was quickly extinguished. The man they feared would literally do away with Brazilian democracy had won.
They have reason to be afraid.
Brazil’s next president is a former military captain, who has promised to do away with leftist activism and sweep away his political opponents, forcing them out of the country or sending them to jail. He has been fined for racist, homophobic and sexist remarks. He has vowed to put guns into people’s hands and fight crime with an iron fist.
“I want a civilian and military police that’s in defense of the people, shoots to kill,” he said during the campaign.
Bolsonaro has praised Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet and Brazil’s own brutal military regime, which ran from 1964 through 1985, during which thousands were tortured and hundreds killed. Bolsonaro’s Vice President, Hamilton Mourão, is a former military general. Bolsonaro has already floated the names of three other ex-military officers for key cabinet positions. His son Eduardo — himself a prominent congressional representative — has said that the Supreme Federal Court could be shut down with a soldier and a corporal.
“I’m very afraid,” said Bolivar Chalfun, a young film director in Rio de Janeiro, outside of a polling station on Sunday. “Bolsonaro is a fascist. He says he’s going to sweep the reds from the country. Who are ‘the reds’? I don’t know. Maybe that’s me. Maybe that’s the poor.”
Chalfun wore a sticker on his chest reading, “Dictatorship, NEVER AGAIN.” In his arms was a book: Milan Kundera’s Laughable Loves. He was one of thousands who took a book with them to vote.
Haddad supporters carried books with them as symbols of hope and education, in response to the guns that some Bolsonaro supporters took into the voting booths in the first round.
Haddad was even greeted at his polling station on Sunday with books, flowers, and umbrellas. His supporters sang of respect and equality, while residents of a nearby apartment complex banged pots and pans.
Facebook posts filled people’s feeds of smiling people, clad in red, or red stickers, with books in their hands by Paulo Freire, Eduardo Galeano, Fritjof Capra, and others.
Liv Makino, a PhD student studying human rights at the Rio de Janeiro Catholic University, carried with her a book titled, Places of Memory, about the resistance to the military regime in Rio de Janeiro.
“I brought this book to show that we have a history and we can’t forget what happened,” she told Toward Freedom. “In recent years, we have been able to give voice to many people. And now they want to silence those voices.”
This was a major concern around the country, just days before the vote, as police raided more than two dozen universities. The unprecedented raids came after electoral authorities ordered #EleNao and anti-fascist banners be taken down from university buildings. They claimed the materials were partisan and steered in favor of the Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad.
“Unfortunately, even before the election of Bolsonaro we have already been witnessing an increase in censorship,” said Henry Bill McQuade Jr., a student doing his doctorate in education at the Santa Catarina Federal University. “We’ve had cases of electoral justice block students’ ability to freely demonstrate.”
Students and teachers responded with protests and rallies. In Brasilia, students performed Bela Ciao, an Italian folk song that was adopted as an anthem of the anti-fascist resistance during World War II.
Supreme Federal Court Justice Carmen Lucia issued an injunction Saturday afternoon, suspending the orders to remove the materials, but as one student wrote, it was, by then, “too late” to have an impact on the elections.
There are major concerns also over the rising political violence. Like Donald Trump, whose incendiary remarks have fueled violence by hate groups in the United States, Bolsonaro and his violent rhetoric has stocked the flames of racism, homophobia and political division. This has empowered some of his supporters to take action.
On the eve of the elections, a Bolsonaro supporter shot and killed Charlione Lessa Albuquerque, a black 23-year-old, in Fortaleza, while he and his mother were participating in a caravan in support of Haddad. Video was shared on twitter of his mother sobbing uncontrollably at the hospital after the young man was pronounced dead.
According to reports, the gunman shouted Bolsonaro’s name after shooting him. Lessa Albuquerque was one of five reported deaths and 120 politically motivated attacks to take place across the country since September. According to researchers, the vast majority were carried out by Bolsonaro supporters.
“My greatest fear is that Bolsonaro’s discourse will empower many others,” said Fabiana da Silvia on election night. She lives in Rio de Janeiro’s Parque das Missões favela and works in the city’s Public Defender’s Office. “Bolsonaro’s discourse [is] that he will ‘sweep away’ any beliefs that are different than his. His hatred for the minorities in the country and his lack of preparation as an administrator of a national like Brazil.”
Brazil now looks toward the January 1st inauguration in a political atmosphere charged with polarized violence and fear, on the heels of a voracious campaign over social media that helped lift Bolsonaro to victory.
Just over a week before the election, the Folha do Sao Paulo newspaper revealed an illegal multi-million-dollar disinformation campaign over WhatsApp to tarnish the reputation of the leftist Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad.
According to the report, right-wing businessmen had spent millions on producing and sending false information in support of Bolsonaro to countless Brazilians via WhatsApp, a messaging application used by roughly 60% of the population.
Haddad cried foul play. The campaign of the third-place challenger Ciro Gomes called for new elections. The Supreme Electoral Court announced it would open an investigation into the case and Bolsonaro’s involvement.
But such investigations move slow. Less than a week from the elections the electoral court announced that it did not have a “miracle solution.”
Like the United States, realities have been blurred, the line between true and false made murky by dubious facts, alternative reports, false memes, and twisted information.
As many on the left — social movements, students, women, and LGBT communities — try to navigate the way forward, one sentiment is shared by all.
“We will not accept this kind of government. The women are not going back to the kitchen. The gays are not going back into the closet,” said Mariana Mitic, a Rio de Janeiro University fine arts student, wearing a t-shirt with an image of the slain black city councilwomen Marielle Franco. “We are not going back. We are not bowing down. We will fight.”
Michael Fox is an independent multimedia journalist based in Brazil and a former editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas. He tweets at @mfox_us.