Will The Fragile Democracy of Brazil Survive?

The presidential election in Brazil is more than about the choices its people have: it might be about their right to keep them.

As voters in Brazil are choosing their representatives, choosing their president can determine the country’s direction in ways that go beyond a specific party. That choice is realistically defined as being between its current president, Jair Bolsonaro, and its once most popular president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula).

This election is extremely important not only because Brazil is a presidential republic (meaning, its president has significant powers) and the world’s 12th economy. It’s because, to put it plainly, if Lula wins, there are fears of Bolsonaro not taking his political loss as leaders in democracies do – and that would have significant consequences for Brazil and the rest of the world.

I have in fact talked about it in my podcast episode on the January 6th insurrection in the US. In it, I was reminding us that, according to political science, one of the traits of an established democracy is that its losers (those who don’t get elected or re-elected) concede defeat. They believe in the democratic process and accept its results even if they’re unfavourable to them.

This is exactly the danger now in Brazil. Bolsonaro has expressed repeatedly, Trump-style, that he either wins or the election is rigged. In a country where military dictatorship is not such a deep past (it’s only four decades ago), such claims have to be taken seriously. And if coup attempts can happen in established democracies, in new democracies such claims should be taken very seriously.

But why is this all important? What are those dire consequences if Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t win?

Well, ironically, there would be some dire consequences to the country if he does win. That would mean further destruction of the Amazon, further violence towards its indigenous people, and the multiple forms of violence that a right-wing neoliberal set of policies create for Brazil’s most vulnerable communities.

Yet if Lula Da Silva wins and Bolsonaro decides not to concede, the fears are of Brazil finding itself in a coup. And if the military is on Bolsonaro’s side, that coup could succeed.

What that would mean are two things. One, the political turbulence in Brazil would not only continue – it would reach a brand new and much worse level. I have talked about it in my podcast episode here: the parliamentary coup that led to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, the neoliberal takeover that followed, and the rise of Jair Bolsonaro, all facilitated by Sergio Moro, a corrupt judge who conspired to send Lula to jail so Bolsonaro has better chances of winning (and no, this is not a bad movie script!).

Two, if Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t win yet stays in power using undemocratic ways, we could only expect the intensification of its neoliberal agenda, further cover-up of corruption cases, and even more disregard for the ones who have been marginalised in the country. And for the world, it would mean even fewer environmental protections for some of the most resource-rich regions in the world.

Let’s hope we don’t see the already fragile democracy of Brazil destroyed.

Listen to my episode covering the political turbulence of the last five years in Brazil here:

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