Jair Bolsonaro will be Brazil’s next president

news image

A YEAR AGO the idea that Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain with an unimpressive career as a congressman, might become Brazil’s president seemed outlandish. Since the first round of Brazil’s national election on October 7th the main question has not been whether he will win but how he will govern. On October 28th he beat Fernando Haddad, of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), with 55% of the vote. For the first time since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985, Brazil has elected a president whose views resemble those of the generals more than those of the democratically elected presidents who succeeded them.

In his first acts as president-elect, Mr Bolsonaro tried to narrow the divisions he and his supporters helped create and calm the fears they have raised, but without abandoning the ideology that brought them success. Speaking on Facebook Live from his home in Barra de Tijuca, a prosperous beachside neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, he promised to respect “the teachings of God, alongside the Brazilian constitution”, and to abandon the “us versus them” rhetoric that has dominated political discussion. His policies would “serve the interest of everyone”, he declared. This was supposed to reassure Brazilians who fear that their new president is a bigot and a dictator in waiting.

But some of the supporters gathered outside his condominium did not share his emollient mood. While loudspeakers carried Mr Bolsonaro’s remarks another sound system blasted out a Bolsonaro themed favela funk track by a local artist that makes fun of leftist politicians, including the congresswoman Mr Bolsonaro said was too ugly to rape. Chants of “Get out, PT” interrupted parts of his speech. Jubilant supporters took turns pointing an oversized cardboard machine gun at a human-sized doll with the face of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the party’s leader and a former Brazilian president, who is in jail for corruption.

Mr Bolsonaro is president largely because he bashed the PT more emphatically than anyone else. The party governed Brazil for 13 years from 2003. Its final years in power were marked by an economic slump, revelations of corruption on an epic scale and rising crime.

Mr Bolsonaro’s victory comes at the end of a campaign that was unusually violent by Brazilian standards. Dozens of hate crimes against gay and black Brazilians were reported between the election’s two rounds. Swastikas and the message “Go back to Bolivia” appeared on the walls of a university dormitory. A well known capoeira teacher from the port city of Salvador who supported Mr Haddad was stabbed to death by a backer of Mr Bolsonaro in a bar. A 23-year-old man was shot while walking in a pro-Haddad march on the outskirts of Fortaleza.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism has documented more than 100 cases of threats and attacks against reporters covering the elections. A man wearing a “Bolsonaro for president” T-shirt cornered a journalist and cut her neck with a knife. A reporter and an editor from Folha de S. Paulo, a newspaper, were threatened online, by telephone and at their homes after the newspaper reported on a plan by businessmen to distribute false news about Mr Haddad through WhatsApp, a messaging service. Waiting for the election result outside Mr Bolsonaro’s house, supporters banged on the windows of a car carrying reporters from the Globo television network, yelling “Globo, Trash!”

Throughout the campaign Mr Bolsonaro encouraged such behaviour, while occasionally trying to sound more statesmanlike. In a video address to a rally on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo on October 21st, he called Folha de S. Paulo “the biggest fake news in Brazil” and promised a purge of his political foes. “We’re going to wipe those red bandits off the map,” he said. “Either they leave the country or they go to jail.” In victory, Mr Bolsonaro continued the war of words on the left. “We cannot continue flirting with socialism, communism, populism and leftist extremism,” he declared in his election-night address.

Mr Bolsonaro has said much more about what he is against than about what he is for. After he was stabbed at a campaign rally in September he stopped participating in debates. His plans for government are sketchy. The real and the stockmarket have risen on expectations that he will reform the state, which is accumulating debt at a dangerous rate. The prospective finance minister, Paulo Guedes, is a pro-market economist with a degree from the University of Chicago. He wants to slash the budget deficit, reform taxes and the unaffordable pension system, deregulate and privatise state enterprise.

Mr Bolsonaro’s main crime-fighting policies, apart from encouraging police to kill more criminals, are to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 and to promote gun ownership among law-abiding Brazilians. His ideas for reducing corruption are not much more elaborated. The president of his Social Liberal Party has said that Sérgio Moro, a judge who has led the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigations, which have implicated scores of politicians, including Lula, could become justice minister or a supreme-court judge. (That would feed the left’s suspicions that the investigations are politically motivated.)

Mr Bolsonaro has already backed away from some of his most controversial ideas. At the bidding of business groups, he dropped plans to fold the environment ministry into the agriculture ministry and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. That suggests that he may be more responsive to pressure from centrist lobbies than is President Donald Trump, with whom he shares some traits. Mr Trump was quick to congratulate Mr Bolsonaro on his election. They agreed to work “side-by-side”.

Mr Bolsonaro, who spent most of his political career hopping among tiny parties as a member of the “lower clergy” of the lower house of congress, wants to form a coalition with centrist parties. But he has also promised voters that he will abjure the customary tactics of handing out pork and patronage to political allies. That means he “isn’t going to have much of a honeymoon”, reckons Chris Garman of Eurasia Group, a consultancy. If he encounters resistance or starts losing popular support, he may reprise his polarising rhetoric. “He’s going to have to choose an enemy,” Mr Garman says.

That frightens people who fear they will be on the enemies list. “Brazil was already a dangerous place to be black and gay,” said Felipe Fibelis, a medical student in Rio. He was wearing a T-shirt commemorating Marielle Franco, a gay left-wing councilwoman who was murdered in March. Pablo Ortellado, a professor of public policy at the University of São Paulo, thinks Brazil’s culture of democracy is already disintegrating. “Rather than the campaign adapting to the diversity of Brazil, Brazilians are adapting to Bolsonaro,” he says. His election has brought almost as much fear as it has jubilation.

Read More

Why does Britain’s most famous TV game show lack female faces?

news image

BRITAIN’S longest-running TV game show, “University Challenge”, has been filling the country’s homes with the sound of buzzers, and “starters for ten” ever since it first aired in 1962. The format is simple: it pits two teams of four students plucked from Britain’s top universities against one another in a severe contest of general knowledge. The questions are often both esoteric and amusing. For example:

“An ancient temple site near Luxor in Egypt, the director of Lolita and Dr Strangelove, and the electronic music group whose albums include Autobahn and Computer Love all have names that begin and end with which letter of the alphabet?”

The programme is strikingly male. A simple tally by The Economist of 552 of the show’s participants to have appeared over the past five years finds that just 127, or 23%, have been women. Cambridge colleges perform particularly poorly. Newer universities do a little better. Just two of past 47 winning teams have been half-female. Two thirds have been all-male. Overall, the female participation rate on “University Challenge” is little higher than the proportion of British university students 100 years ago who were female.

Last year women outnumbered men at Britain’s two hundred or so universities by some 25%, yet men have consistently outnumbered women as contestants on “University Challenge”. Why is this? The show’s host, Jeremy Paxman, says that “like football or darts, more males than females care about quizzing.” Yet “Jeopardy!”, America’s most famous quiz show, manages to have a female participation rate of around 40%, far higher than “University Challenge”.

The producers of “University Challenge” would love to increase the number of women who take part. But unlike the producers of “Jeopardy!”, they do not control the recruitment process. University teams are typically picked via a contest organised by students. These can be intense and male-dominated events. “Walking into a room and seeing no one like you is intimidating. It makes it hard to believe you belong there,” observes Lizzie Fry, a female contestant this year.

Rosie McKeown, a member of last year’s winning team, says that social-media hostility and the deep-rooted confidence gap between men and women discourage women from applying to the programme. Social media can indeed be hostile to women. A recent report by Amnesty International, a human-rights organisation, found that 23% of women around the world have experienced online abuse. “When women experience abuse online it is more often sexual or gendered,” according to Azmina Dhrodia of Amnesty.

“University Challenge” contestants must also have extraordinary confidence in their abilities. This is especially true for starter questions, which are answered by the person speediest to ping a buzzer. A wrong answer is doubly penalised: the question is given to the other team and the student who messed up earns a sneer from Mr Paxman that is broadcast to millions. A study published by the American Psychological Society in April showed that women are less likely to think they are more intelligent than their peers, even when they are. This is likely to be a handicap on “University Challenge”, which rewards ego as well as knowledge. Incidentally, an assessment of 750,000 quiz questions answered on “Jeopardy!”, found no differences in the rate of correct answers given by men and women. Indeed, women appeared to perform better when pitted against men.

Editor’s note: the answer to the “starter” question above, as The Economist’s readers will no doubt have guessed, is “K”—Karnak, Kubrick and Kraftwerk. 

Read More

A brand new passenger jet crashes in Indonesia

news image

ON OCTOBER 29th a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airliner, one of the newest and most technologically advanced passenger planes in the world, crashed into the Java Sea shortly after leaving Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. If, as is feared, none of the 189 passengers and crew aboard Lion Air Flight 610 survived, the crash will become the second deadliest in Indonesia’s history. It is also the first involving a MAX aircraft, which only entered service last year. Speculating on the causes at this early stage is both unhelpful to investigators and disrespectful to victims. Most aircraft losses stem from a web of technical, environmental and human factors, the nuances of which take months to unearth. But, as they get to work, investigators will inevitably have Indonesia’s poor air-safety record at the front of their minds.

The Aviation Safety Network, a website that tracks aviation accidents around the globe, had recorded 15 fatal air crashes in Indonesia this decade prior to the loss of Flight 610. The figure rises to 56 when non-fatal incidents are included. That so many planes should encounter difficulties in Indonesia is partly down to three peculiarities of the country: its vast population of 260m, its heavy dependence on air travel to connect the thousands of islands that make up its territory and its challenging terrain and weather conditions. With Indonesia forecast to become the fourth-largest aviation market in the world by 2030, up from tenth today, some experts have long feared that the country is putting growth in traffic before safety. Lion Air, its largest low-cost carrier, had already suffered a dozen major incidents since 2002, one of which involved fatalities.

That said, aviation-safety standards did seem to be improving in the country. In June the European Commission lifted its decade-old ban on Indonesian carriers, praising the country’s improved regulatory environment for airlines. The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nations’ aviation body, sounded a similar note last year, when it increased Indonesia’s air-safety ranking to 55th from 151st out of 191 countries. Also last year, Lion Air was added to the IOSA Registry, a list of airlines with good air-safety compliance. Against this backdrop, Indonesians had expected to see air-crash statistics gradually improve. Many thought that the latest generation of Western-built aircraft were the least of their concerns. Lion Air Flight 610 shows that the country may still have a long way to go before flying becomes as safe as it is in the West.

Read More

Blasphemy bans are struck out in Ireland and reinforced in Austria

news image

WHEN it comes to basic principles of free speech and freedom of belief, do the nations of Europe form a coherent bloc, determined to apply those principles at home and advocate them round the world? A whole raft of institutions, from the 28-nation European Union to the 47-nation Council of Europe (and its most powerful arm, the European Court of Human Rights) has been built on that assumption. Individually and collectively, Europe’s democracies are supposed to stand for enlightenment freedoms.

In fact, the trends at work in Europe are wildly contradictory, as two recent news reports bring home. On October 26th voters in Ireland opted to strike out their constitution’s requirement for a legal ban on blasphemy, a provision that dates back to the days when a conservative Catholic church dominated the republic’s affairs. 

Although the anti-blasphemy law was by world standards mild, and virtually unenforceable, liberal-minded people argued that its very existence offered moral support to the vastly harsher anti-blasphemy regimes that apply in places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Irish blasphemy legislation was all but discredited out of existence when the police went through the earliest stages of prosecuting Stephen Fry, an English actor and comedian, for some anti-religious statements and soon concluded that nobody had been offended. 

The constitutional adjustment was approved by 65% to 35% with younger voters endorsing the change in much larger numbers. The outcome is the latest in a series of popular votes for liberalising change in Ireland, which have ushered in same-sex marriage and lifted a virtual ban on abortion.

A couple of days earlier, however, Austria’s remarkably restrictive blasphemy law was reinforced by a verdict from the ECHR. It upheld the 2011 conviction of an Austrian woman who had been fined €480 ($546) because, in a seminar on Islam, she had drawn attention to the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad to the six-year-old Aisha and said that such a thing would be regarded by today’s standards as child molestation.

In a way that would be inconceivable for the American judiciary (given the constitutional separation of church and state), the Austrian courts had delved deep into the substance of the matter, saying the woman should have taken into account Muhammad’s other marriages or the fact that the union with Aisha reportedly continued into her adulthood. The apparent fact that she had not given a balanced account of Muhammad’s marital life was deemed to be a violation of Austria’s ban on “disparaging religious doctrines”.

In other words, the Austrian verdict, upheld by the ECHR, went far beyond the principle that in some circumstances, blasphemous acts (like burning a holy book on the street) might be a public-order offence. Nor did it focus on the question of whether people were, in practice, offended. It implied that in any context whatever, merely expressing an “incorrect” or unbalanced view of a religious matter (from the viewpoint of the religion concerned) could be a punishable offence. 

For free-speech advocates this was a big step backwards.

The ECHR judges, for their part, offered an interpretation of an article in the European Convention on Human Rights which lays down that “freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Many civil-liberty campaigners would say this language is regrettably broad in the leeway it gives for clamping down on robust religious debate. And the court appeared to broaden it further by saying that individual governments should be given a wide “margin of appreciation” in assessing the likely effect of contentious religious speech on their own particular societies.

Jacob Mchangama, a Danish lawyer who campaigns for free speech across Europe, said the ECHR verdict was a sad deviation from the welcome trend towards entrenching the liberty to offend. 

As he put it, “the Court’s decision not only undermines the impressive movement towards abolishing blasphemy laws in all European democracies. It also legitimises those illiberal states which have long argued that international human-rights law should protect religious ideas and feelings at the expense of free speech.”

In 2010, during one of the last contentious debates at the United Nations about whether the “defamation of religion” should be penalised, a French envoy said on behalf of the whole European Union that “the concept of defamation should not fall under the remit of human rights because it conflicted with the right to freedom of expression.”

On the face of things, Irish voters have been true to that principle while Austrian judges—and those at the ECHR—have not.

Read More