By Cherolyn Amery

Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro set about staffing his new administration on Wednesday [31 October], naming an astronaut as science minister while a top anti-corruption judge mulled a job offer. Mr Bolsonaro won the presidential race on Sunday [28 October], easily overcoming his leftist opponent with a vow to kneecap violent drug gangs and end years of political graft. He has also said he wants to roughly halve the size of the presidential cabinet. Mr Bolsonaro, who nearly died from a stab wound while campaigning last month, donned a bulletproof vest on Wednesday and headed to the beach in Rio de Janeiro to attend an acrobatic air show in his honour. (Reuters)

The rise of Jair Bolsonaro

The election of former army captain Jair Bolsonaro – described by David Child (Aljazeera) as “a divisive far-right firebrand” and “self-styled political outsider” – has divided the Brazilian population. His supporters are celebrating Mr Bolsonaro’s victory with anticipation for the changes he has promised to bring, but others are fearing for the country’s future due to the things he has said and promises he has made.

The 63-year-old president-elect of the largest democracy in Latin America won 55 percent of the vote on Sunday 28 October, in a runoff against Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party that had held power since 2003. While he has had a career in politics for decades (mostly as a congressman for Rio de Janeiro in the lower house Chamber of Deputies), he only came into the political spotlight four years ago, when Brazil experienced a massive economic downturn.  

What contributed to Mr Bolsonaro’s rise to the most powerful position in Brazil? Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, attributes it to “the overall discreditment of establishment politicians resulting from the worst recession in 100 years, the biggest corruption scandal ever detected… and [the] never-ending deterioration in crime and homicide” (seven of the world’s 20 most violent cities are in Brazil). Richard Lapper, an independent analyst, told Aljazeera that Mr Bolsonaro’s effective use of social media and his ability to “[capitalise] on the mood that’s anti-political in Brazil” also played a key role in his success. These factors have also contributed to his nickname: “Trump of the tropics”. He has also been compared to the controversial leader of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

Support and opposition

Supporters of Mr Bolsonaro see him as “the leader capable of delivering salvation from Brazil’s political, social and economic crises” (David Child, Aljazeera). Many approve of his plans to militarise the police, to allow them greater freedom to kill, and to allow more members of the public to own private weapons. And due to his position as a ‘political outsider’, it was felt that he would be able to transform the Brazilian establishment. From an economic point of view, business leaders approved of his support for free-market economics.

Critics, however, say that the solutions Mr Bolsonaro is offering regarding the crime problem (giving the police increased powers, etc.) have proven in other contexts to have no positive effect. They also argue that his policy ideas are not well thought out, and are actually simplistic solutions disguised as charismatic rhetoric. Mr Bolsonaro’s discrimination against minority race groups, women and homosexuals have been well publicised, as has his support for the use of torture and his praise for the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

Support among evangelicals

While Brazil is officially the largest Catholic country in the world, there is a growing Evangelical body of believers – according to Reuters, one in four voters were Evangelical. The Atlantic reported that the percentage of Brazilians who identified as Evangelical grew from 6.6 percent in 1980 to 22.2 percent in 2010. And many of those hold traditional and conservative opinions about politics and society. In a 2016 survey quoted by the Atlantic, 54 percent of Brazilians in general held conservative opinions, which was up from 49 percent in 2010.

Among Brazilian Evangelicals, Mr Bolsonaro had a lot of support. While he still identifies as Catholic, Mr Bolsonaro was baptised in the Jordan River by an Evangelical political leader in 2016 and attends church with his Evangelical wife and son. During his acceptance speech, Mr Bolsonaro swore to honour “the teachings of God, alongside the Brazilian constitution”. And aside from his “incorruptibility”, Mr Bolosonaro was seen as the one to “lead a conservative counter-attack against the progressive agenda of the leftist Worker’s Party, which led Brazil for most of the past 15 years” (Reuters). Supporters hope that he will be instrumental in ending the recognition of same-sex civil unions and LGBT education in schools, as well as halting legislative attempts to legalise abortion, drugs, gambling and stem-cell research.


Psalm 20:7 says: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

A healthy Christian response to political elections is one of confidence and trust – not confidence in new political leaders, but confidence in the God who appoints leaders; not trust in new policies, but trust in a God who always directs a Kingdom agenda.

An INcontext contact in Brazil commented on the election results as follows: “As a Christian, I am grateful that Brazil’s electorate chose Jair Bolsonaro as president for the next few years. He asked a pastor to pray as his first act after being elected. No other president has done this in the past. Jair Bolsonaro used his TV appearance just after the results to pray, and almost 100 percent of the population was watching. For Christians, it was a very nice testimony.

“Mr Bolsonaro wants to choose his ministers based on their skills and qualifications, and not for political reasons. Some of these ministers are Christian as well. I do not agree with the idea that Mr Bolsonaro will be a ‘saviour’, because there are many things that are not dependent on his decisions, but I sincerely believe he can make a difference and allow the country to prosper.

“Over the next few months, we will know if we were right to choose Mr Bolsonaro. In past years, we elected Fernando Collor de Mello (1992), and we were disappointed at that time because he did not do anything he had promised to do.”



  • For Bolsonaro to truly seek God’s guidance for his leadership term
  • For the Brazilian Church to be a force for good in their country
  • For the new season of leadership to be beneficial for Brazilian mission endeavours