1664694044 Janja da Silva and Michelle Bolsonaro two antagonistic first ladies

Janja da Silva and Michelle Bolsonaro, two antagonistic first ladies for Brazil

The First Lady of Brazil Michelle Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva's wife Janja da Silva.The First Lady of Brazil, Michelle Bolsonaro, and Lula da Silva’s wife, Janja da Silva. Buda Mendes / Antonio Lacerda

The wives of the candidates for the presidency of Brazil have never been more prominent than in this election. Michelle Bolsonaro and Rosangela da Silva, known as Janja, got caught in the mud of politics and multiplied their appearances at campaign events. They are closed with prayers to God; the other with a ditty of love and hope. An abyss of personality and style separates them, but both share the same mission: to capture the defining voice of women.

Janja da Silva, 56, is the de facto coordinator of her husband’s agenda. Married to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva since May, she produced the new version of “Lula la”, the ubiquitous campaign theme. She appears at his side, calls him “Love”, sings and projects joy. “I love this city, I love Rio de Janeiro… There’s only a week left to deposit all the love and vote for Lula!” she said at a recent rally, dressed in blue and behind large horn-rimmed glasses. He smiled at her sitting in his chair.

Janja da Silva, who is 20 years her junior, has rejuvenated the election campaign of the five-time presidential candidate. Sociologist, teacher, former worker at Itaipu hydroelectric power station, one of the largest in the world, has been a member of the Labor Party for four decades. She began dating Lula in 2018, shortly after he was widowed by his second wife. Love blossomed even during the 580 days Lula spent in prison. The first thing he did after leaving prison was to introduce his girlfriend to the world.

In addition to preaching love and peace, Da Silva is a harsh critic of Jair Bolsonaro’s government. In an act in Curitiba, the southern Brazilian city where he grew up, he called out to the President for the hundreds of thousands of victims of Covid-19, including his mother. “Every time I see [el video del] When the President impersonates a person choking on Covid-19, it’s like watching my mother die over and over again,” she lamented emotionally. Da Silva has said she wants to “resign” the position of first lady and focus on priority issues facing women, such as gender-based violence.

Although Michelle Bolsonaro, 40, is more discreet than Da Silva, she is seen as crucial to her husband’s political development. The presidential couple met in 2007 when she was secretary in the Chamber of Deputies and he was a marginal far-right MP close to the military. He also carried two divorces. She, a fervent evangelical, opened the doors to the powerful religious vote. They first got married in a civil ceremony and in 2013 received God’s blessing from the influential pastor Silas Malafaia. Michelle convinced her husband to reverse the vasectomy so they could start a family.

When her husband took office after a campaign he barely took part in, Michelle gave a speech in sign language – volunteering with the deaf. It was an unprecedented gesture in the history of Brazilian inaugurations and many thought heralded an era of more active first ladies. It was not like that. In the last four years, Michelle has returned to a more low-key role. That is, until her husband’s re-election ran into serious trouble. Bolsonaro needs it.

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The 67-year-old president has disapproval rates of over 50% among women and is trying to change that bad image. It’s a huge challenge for someone who came to tell an MP that she didn’t deserve to be raped “because she’s ugly”. Michelle appears there with her serious family woman profile. It has appeared so often in Bolsonaro’s propaganda that the Supreme Electoral Court has vetoed videos for exceeding the deadlines for supporters to participate. The campaign attempted to circumvent the order with a female narrator repeating Michelle’s phrases. The court again suspended the distribution of the material.

Michelle has portrayed her husband as a man who supports women. In a recent law, he highlighted that the government had passed 70 laws in this regard, a number questioned by the Brazilian media. Referring to him as a ‘technical’ man and she more ‘spiritual’, she said: ‘I think we complement each other don’t we? That’s the way it has to be, dear ones. The woman must be the man’s helper.”

The efforts have fallen on deaf ears most of the time. A few weeks ago, on the esplanade in front of the Presidential Palace in Brasilia and with Michelle by his side, Bolsonaro repeated a made-up word to refer to himself: “imbrochável”, one who doesn’t have erectile dysfunction. He then urged supporters to compare the candidates’ wives. “There is nothing to discuss. One is a woman of God, of a family,” he judged, turning to singles: “Find a woman, a princess and get married”. The next day, Janja da Silva grabbed the glove and replied: “You don’t have princesses here, only wrestling women!” Princesses or fighters, Brazil chooses which woman it wants to represent again this Sunday.