Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

Michelle Bolsonaro eyes the presidency of Brazil

It already seems clear that the wife of the former Brazilian president will begin her entry into active politics as soon as possible. She will likely start with the municipal elections scheduled for October

Michelle Bolsonaro
Michelle Bolsonaro, the former first lady of Brazil, during a political event in São Paulo, in October 2022.STRINGER (REUTERS)
Juan Arias

The polls continue to show that Brazil is divided in half. President Lula da Silva — despite his efforts and his plans to reconcile the country — has yet to achieve unity. If the 2022 elections were repeated today, Lula would defeat the right and extreme-right by the same small margin.

Jair Bolsonaro — who has been disqualified from holding elected office for eight years — demonstrated his political strength this past February 25, by gathering a large crowd of supporters in São Paulo. During his address, he asked that amnesty be granted to his followers, who have been convicted and imprisoned for the assault on the capital of Brasília, which took place a week after Lula’s inauguration, on January 8, 2023.

That massive demonstration in support of Bolsonaro — who served as president from 2018 until 2022, before losing his reelection bid — showed that, even with one foot in jail, he still has an army of faithful followers behind him. He, too, is hoping to get some form of political amnesty so that he can return to the ring.

It’s just a dream. But what’s certainly a reality is that — as was evident during the recent rally — the person who really stood out was Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle. An Evangelical Christian and a sign language interpreter, she’s currently responsible for women’s policy for the Liberal Party (PL), to which she and her husband belong.

In the event that Bolsonaro is definitively excluded from politics by the judicial authorities, there’s no doubt that a figure who already stands out openly as the heir of his messianic movement is Michelle. She’s not an intellectual, but she’s a great public speaker, with a certain magnetism among Evangelical women. During her husband’s term, she was the one who — every early morning, at the government headquarters — performed mystical Evangelical rites alongside an Evangelical pastor.

What’s now beginning to be analyzed is the role that Michelle played during the large demonstration in São Paulo. Beyond Bolsonaro, very few politicians address the crowd. But the person who opened the event was Michelle, who spoke for 15 minutes. With strong mystical overtones to her language, she proposed a theocratic project for Brazil, dominated by biblical messianism.

“While her husband called for amnesty for the coup plotters, Michelle Bolsonaro used the event to promote another cause: the suppression of the secular state,” wrote Bernardo Melo Franco, a columnist for the newspaper O Globo.

At the event — which was organized and financed by the millionaire Evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia — Michelle complained about how politics couldn’t be mixed with religion in the country. Because of this secularism, she argued, “evil occupied the country.” With great emphasis she announced that the “time of liberation has come… Father, we love you and we ask you that the Lord establish his kingdom in Brazil.”

In Veja — a Brazilian weekly news magazine — columnist Ricardo Chapola analyzed the act: “Within the PL, Michelle Bolsonaro is considered to be the main heir to the popularity of former president Jair Bolsonaro, in case he remains ineligible for the 2026 presidential elections.” He also wrote that, in a recent poll, Michelle — in a hypothetical dispute today with Lula for the presidency — would only be seven points behind him.

What already seems clear is that Michelle will begin her entry into active politics as soon as possible, likely starting with the Brazilian municipal elections in October. And if Sérgio Moro — a legendary former judge — loses his Senate seat, there’s already talk about Michelle contesting the vacancy, as a first step towards the presidential elections.

The message in her fiery speech was that, if she reached the presidency, she would focus her efforts on building a theocratic state, founded on the values of the Bible. Referring to Bolsonaro’s following as an “army of God,” she emphasized: “We are a good people who defend Christian values and principles.” She cited God 38 times, while mentioning the Lord 30 times. To top it all off, she concluded: “We bless Israel, in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

As journalist Melo Franco comments: “You don’t need to have a doctorate in semiotics to understand the message. The [far-right] dream — even before Bolsonaro came to power — was to end the current secular state, to instead embrace a theocratic one. Michelle’s message is to fight against the secularism of the state in Brazil.”

Her discourse exemplified what Lula had already foreseen before the 2022 presidential elections, when he engaged in outreach to female Evangelicals, offering tax relief and expressing his faith in God. Like Michelle, he knows how to address religious Brazilians and those from marginalized backgrounds.

Lula never forgot that Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential elections largely because the public stabbing attack against him — which took place shortly before the polls — was exploited as a sign from heaven that Jair was God’s chosen one. And, like it or not, in Brazil — despite all of its economic and social progress — the religious aspect remains fundamental in public life. Atheism has no place here, nor does agnosticism. All you have to do is visit the offices of deputies and senators to see how they’ve converted their spaces into chapels, where religious objects of all faiths appear. It is God who gives votes. And Michelle — the new star of the Bolsonaro movement — is revealing herself to be a specialist in this field.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS