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Can Brazil’s Democracy Survive the Heralds of Authoritarianism?

This post has been originally published on 25.11.2018.

“After a highly polarized—and unprecedentedly violent—election, Brazilians have chosen former army captain and far-right candidate Jair Messias Bolsonaro (PSL) as their 38th president. Mr. Bolsonaro defeated former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad (PT) with 55% of the valid votes (approximately 57 million votes).

His victory may be regarded as a turning point in Latin American politics and a new chapter of the on-going rise of the far-right worldwide. Domestically, his election marks the apex of a conservative and anti-PT[1] movement conceived in the aftermath of the 2013 protests.

Mr. Bolsonaro won by presenting himself as an alternative to the political establishment. However, the president-elect is no outsider. Jair Bolsonaro has been a congressman for nearly 28 years integrating the so-called “low-clergy” of Brazilian politics. Last year, for example, he ran for the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies, getting 4 out of 513 votes. It comes as no surprise that Bolsonaro’s election sparked concerns about the survival of Brazil’s democracy. Mr. Bolsonaro became well-known in Brazil for his controversial remarks—in 2014 he said that he wouldn’t rape a congresswoman because she didn’t deserve it—and for his worrying admiration for the military dictatorship (1964-1985). During the campaign, Bolsonaro said that he would only accept the results of the election if he had won, questioning the very legitimacy of the electoral process. Recently, he threatened his political opponents by giving them the choice of exile or extermination.

His entourageis no less controversial. His son and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL) was recorded saying that “it would take a soldier and a corporal to shut down the Supreme Court”. He later apologized.

Vice-President-elect, General Hamilton Mourão (PRTB), retired in the beginning of the year after supporting a “military solution” for the political crisis that engulfed the country.

Bolsonaro’s possible choice for the Ministry of External Relations (Itamaraty) is Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança (PSL), a monarchist and descendent of the Brazilian royal family who often criticises the UN for being a “left-wing organization”.

Last week, the president-elect announced that his Minister of Justice would be Sergio Moro, the judge responsible for Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), which unveiled a gargantuan corruption scandal involving several political parties, construction companies and state-owned oil company Petrobras. Last April, Judge Sergio Moro sent former president—and Bolsonaro’s main opponent—Lula da Silva to prison, thwarting his ambitions to run for a third term. Moro’s nomination is now raising doubts about his impartiality.

It is likely that Bolsonaro will soften his speech once in office. However, in a country scourged by recession, corruption scandals and urban violence, Mr. Bolsonaro’s Weltanschauung is in itself detrimental to democracy. When one elects as president a politician who openly defends the purge of his political opponents, who salutes convicted torturers, who is nostalgic about the military dictatorship and who regards human rights as a “leftist creation”, one is opening the floodgates to brutalisation. It should not pass unnoticed that in politics, words can materialize in the blink of an eye. This week, Brazilian television network SBT revived the infamous dictatorship slogan “Brazil, love it or leave it”, in a purported nationalist campaign.

In the year in which the Brazilian Constitution commemorates its 30thanniversary, Brazil’s young democracy is once again under threat. As in Ingmar Bergman’s Das Schlangenei, Bolsonaro’s rise may be the hatching of a serpent’s egg.”


Rodolfo Ribeiro C. Marques, Geneva


Credit: Bolsonaro fala com a imprensa, em 2016, sobre ter se tornado réu no STF pro dizer que Maria do Rosario, caputed by Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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