Nikolas Ferreira: The young transphobic Christian and the leader of the homeless: the most voted deputies in a divided Brazil | International
Nikolas Ferreira, 26, and Guilherme Boulos, 40, are the lawmakers with the most votes in Sunday's election in Brazil. They are both men, white and from the city. The similarities end there. Ferreira, with almost 1.5 million votes, is a influencer from Belo Horizonte who describes himself as conservative, Christian and against “gender ideology”. Boulos, with 1 million supporters and from São Paulo, led the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST) and organized invasions of private property. He defends, among other things, the establishment of a tax on large fortunes and the prohibition of statues that honor historical figures linked to slavery. They are the face of a country divided into two halves and that has yet to name its next president.
"Stop there, who entered?" Ferreira asks in full live broadcast on Instagram, the eve of the first presidential round. On the other side of the screen appears the wrinkled forehead of the president, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro. Ferreira jumps out of his seat as if Brazil had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. "Mr. President, I know he's tired, but I'm here to give you a message," he says. “I want to thank him for everything he has done for this country. Cheer up!". Bolsonaro responds with a defense of "freedom" and criticism of "the communist governments that have sunk their countries." When the president is fired, the influencer celebrate again loudly: almost 300,000 viewers have followed the exchange.
From a conservative but humble family, Ferreira affirms that he was harassed for his ideas when he was studying law at the university, which he describes as a left-wing “activism den”. A couple of years ago, he won an election for councilor in Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city in Brazil and the capital of the State of Minas Gerais. He was the second most voted local representative in the history of the city and has taken advantage of his position to promote the "express prohibition" of the use of inclusive language in public and private schools.
The new deputy's recipe combines skill in social networks —3.9 million followers on Instagram, 1.1 million on Twitter— with a speech that touches all the far-right boxes in Brazil, from skepticism about vaccines to covid-19 the right to bear arms for personal defense. For this last matter, he attacked the recently elected trans deputy Duda Salabert for having defended greater restrictions, when she, who has received death threats, has an armed escort. “The hypocrite”, she said in a speech, before correcting the article to masculine to make her transphobia clear: “The hypocrite".
Like Ferreira, Guilherme Boulos knows how to move well on social networks —1.9 million followers on Instagram and 1.8 on Twitter—, but the content he spreads is completely different. Born in São Paulo in a wealthy home, he studied philosophy and was part of the communist youth. Later, he became involved in the Movement of Homeless Workers, a powerful association that claims the right to housing and advocates for reducing urban inequalities. In 2003, he rose to fame for leading a 20-day occupation of a huge, unused Volkswagen lot.
Boulos, sporting a beard reminiscent of a younger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is seen as representative of Brazil's new generation of leftist leaders. Sooner or later, the renewal will have to happen: Lula is already 76 years old and, if he wins the Presidency, he will end his term after 80. A member of the PSOL, the left to the left of the Workers' Party, Boulos campaigned in favor of giving aid to the poor for the purchase of houses and raising taxes on the richest. He says that he wants to take “those fights [de movimientos sociales] for within a space of power”. And, by the way, send Bolsonaro to jail for his management of the pandemic.
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From opposing ideological trenches, Ferreira and Boulos share the same goal for the month that remains until the second round: get their respective presidential candidates re-elected. The states from which they come, Minas Gerais —won by Lula in the first round— and São Paulo —won by Bolsonaro—, are the two most populous in Brazil and, therefore, key pieces of the board. "We are going to be in the streets every day until October 30 to close this dark phase of Brazilian history," Boulos said in an interview this week. Ferreira, for his part, declared himself "a soldier in the war" for the re-election of Bolsonaro.
Whatever the final result, the clash of these two opposing visions will mark the new Chamber of Deputies. The coalition led by Bolsonaro's Liberal Party, in which Ferreira will join, will have the largest bench in the legislature. The Workers' Party and allies such as Boulos' PSOL will have the second largest representation. In between, there will be a gray mass of legislators who will move according to the direction of the political winds. From one side and the other, Nikolas Ferreira and Guilherme Boulos will blow, two halves of Brazil who will soon face each other in plenary.
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