Jair Bolsonaro’s election as President of Brazil, back in October, was not an isolated event. Besides his victory in the main race, his Social Liberal Party (PSL) reached unseen levels of representation in Congress; military candidates were victorious all over the country, and gubernatorial aspirants who sought to attach their name to the image of Mr. Bolsonaro were elected in crucial states.
The most prominent examples of this last phenomenon came in Brazil’s two most populous states: João Doria winning in São Paulo, and the previously unknown Wilson Witzel rising to power in Rio de Janeiro.
While his Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) spent millions on campaign adverts attacking Jair Bolsonaro, João Doria lobbied in his favor. Jumping on the bandwagon of the frontrunner in the national election, Mr. Doria successfully implored his electorate to vote “Bolsodoria”: João Doria for governor of São Paulo, and Jair Bolsonaro for president.
A former mayor of the city of São Paulo, Mr. Doria narrowly won the governor’s race and spent a significant amount of time in his inauguration speech criticizing his own party (which has controlled the São Paulo state government for 24 years) and making veiled attacks to his former mentor-turned-enemy, Geraldo Alckmin.
The beef between the two goes back to last year’s pre-campaign. While Geraldo Alckmin was understood as being PSDB’s natural choice for presidential nominee, João Doria went behind his back and tried to gather support for his own bid. This led Mr. Alckmin, who had brought Mr. Doria into politics in 2016 and propelled him to the São Paulo mayor’s office, to label him a traitor.
Though unsuccessful in his bid to become a presidential candidate, ever since, Mr. Doria has tried to wrestle control of the PSDB for himself, steering it away from the center-right and towards Jair Bolsonaro.
From businessman to Bolsonarista
When he won election as Mayor of São Paulo in 2016, João Doria presented himself as apolitical—a businessman, not a politician—someone who could come in and run São Paulo like a massive corporation. However, two years on, alongside the rise of the far-right in Brazil, Mr. Doria’s discourse has become a lot more aggressive, apparently mirroring that of President Bolsonaro.
He has said that under his administration, the São Paulo police will “shoot to kill,” and appointed an Army General as his head of security, promising a war on the expansive Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC) organized crime gang. On Thursday, Mr. Doria claimed that faction leaders would be kept in isolation in state penitentiaries, without any contact with other inmates. Similar threats made against organized crime in the northeastern state of Ceará have led to nearly a week of sustained violence on the streets of that state.
Economically, João Doria’s administration also seems set to toe the federal line, traced by Mr. Bolsonaro’s Ministry of the Economy, Paulo Guedes. Privatizations and cost-cutting are the orders of the day, with the new governor making grand gestures to “curb privileges,” such as turning down the option to live in the Bandeirantes Palace—the traditional seat of the state government and official residence—instead using it as a place of work and staying at his vast mansion 15 minutes away.
João Doria’s treatment of the press has also been similar to that of Jair Bolsonaro, allowing very few questions in conferences, and only from pre-selected outlets. An example of his standoffish relationship with journalists came in his first press conference as governor, when he refused to answer questions on Gilberto Kassab, his appointed Chief of Staff who was forced to resign after only two days to defend himself from corruption allegations.
His first week has not been a quiet one, signing off on a public transport fare hike in São Paulo that went significantly above inflation. Tickets for the subway and bus network have jumped 7.5 percent to BRL 4.30, despite inflation for the last year being only 3.59 percent.
Who is Rio de Janeiro governor Wilson Witzel?
While João Doria was the previous mayor of São Paulo, the rise of Wilson Witzel to the governor’s seat in Rio de Janeiro came as a total surprise. A former trial court judge, Mr. Witzel was nowhere to be seen on the political scene until the middle of last year, when he left the bench to run for governor, representing the Social Christian Party (PSC).
Wilson Witzel was a rank outsider until one week before the election when he expressed his support for Jair Bolsonaro in a televised debate. Flávio Bolsonaro, the son of the president, helped attach Mr. Witzel’s name to that of his father’s, and out of nowhere, he became the outright leader in the election race.
Since taking office, Mr. Witzel’s platform has been based almost exclusively on public security and anti-corruption measures. These topics speak to the Rio de Janeiro electorate, with the city’s security apparatus having spent months under federal intervention in 2018, and 10 of Rio’s 70 state lawmakers currently being in jail on corruption charges.
His first week has been ambitious, delivering his secretaries a list of 203 goals to be completed within six months. Specialists, however, have suggested that his manifesto is overly generic, and only 20 of the 203 objectives have any numerical data to back them up.
Mr. Witzel’s political inexperience is palpable, however, sticking his foot in it in week one by suggesting that “Rio de Janeiro needs its own Guantanamo” to contain “terrorists,” a reference to the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. He also called for the anti-terrorism law to increase its punishments to 50 years, placing prisoners in solitary confinement, “far from civilization.”