Michelle Bolsonaro: How Brazil's First Lady has moved out from the shadows to the front lines

Brazil's Michelle Bolsonaro is known for having simple tastes and has become a key agent for her husband's re-election bid. During Jair's swearing-in in 2019, Michelle impressed all by giving a speech in sign language

Agence France-Presse September 26, 2022 12:57:12 IST
Michelle Bolsonaro: How Brazil's First Lady has moved out from the shadows to the front lines

Brazilian First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro’s main contribution has been to shore up support for Jair Bolsonaro among Brazil's large evangelical community. Wikimedia Commons

Río de Janeiro: Brazil’s Michelle Bolsonaro used to keep a low profile, but she has become a key agent for her husband’s re-election bid, thanks to oratory worthy of an evangelical preacher.

Michelle de Paula Firmo Reinaldo, 40, and Jair Bolsonaro, 27 years her senior, met in 2007 in Congress, where he was a lawmaker and she worked as a staffer.

They started dating, and Bolsonaro offered her a job. The proposal led to their getting married. She eventually left her job, to comply with a law against nepotism.

Jair Bolsonaro had been married and divorced twice before this and already had four kids. Michelle Bolsonaro has a daughter from a previous relationship. The Bolsonaros between them have an 11-year-old daughter.

The first lady is known for having simple tastes, and said once in a speech that she has learned to help people in any way she can and spends part of her time working with people who have disabilities.

“It is a calling I have, to be close to people with disabilities, the deaf. I have a lot of love for this community,” she said during the 2018 campaign in which her husband was first elected.

During her husband’s swearing-in in 2019, Michelle Bolsonaro impressed Brazilians by giving a speech in sign language.

‘Woman of God’

She speaks in a soft voice that stands in stark contrast to the almost military bark of her far-right husband, who is seen as being utterly smitten with his young, third wife.

“We can make all kinds of comparisons among first ladies,” Bolsonaro said on 7 September. He famously drew much criticism for making an unkind remark about the physical appearance of French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife Brigitte Macron in 2019.

“She is a woman of God… who plays an important role in my life. She is not only at my side. Many times she is in front of me,” Bolsonaro said of his wife at a campaign rally in Brasilia.

He then urged unmarried men in the crowd to “find a princess” like he says he did, and gave his wife a passionate kiss.

Bolsonaro is known for making sexist comments, so much so that his campaign team convinced the first lady — reportedly against her will, at first — to take on a much more prominent role in the re-election bid so as to woo women voters.

But her main contribution has been to shore up support for Bolsonaro among Brazil’s large evangelical community.

Bolsonaro says he is Catholic, but his wedding with Michelle in 2013 was presided over by Silas Malafaia, a Brazilian Pentecostal pastor, author and televangelist.

From darkness to light 

At his campaign launch event on 17 August, the president said his wife was “the most important person” in the room.

Then, the first lady gave a speech that felt more like a religious sermon, calling on people to recite the Lord’s Prayer. This was a big hit with the crowd.

In early September, she and several pastors called on Brazilians to observe 30 days of prayer and fasting for their country, until election day on 2 October.

Before joining the campaign, she seemed content to remain behind the scenes.

She has appeared in videos leading prayer sessions with civil servants who support her husband.

News reports say she played a big role in the naming of a Presbyterian preacher to be education minister and the first evangelical judge on the Supreme Court.

Now that she has a big role in the campaign, there is speculation that she could be more prominent in her husband’s administration if he wins re-election.

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