Election Denial in Brazil Threatens Democracy

GRAPHIC BY MADI REYES/GRAPHICS CENTER

In his acceptance speech, Brazil’s newly elected president Luiz Inàcio “Lula” da Silva said, “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, and one great nation.” But his vision has yet to come true — in the months leading up to Brazil’s presidential election, the country has been wildly divided. The results of democracy did not settle these divides. Instead, it left one group celebrating and one group enraged.

Lula was president of Brazil from 2003-2011 and won against current President Jair Bolsonaro by a narrow margin of under two percent after a second round of elections on Oct. 30. 

Bolsonaro is a former army captain and apologist for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship. During his time as president, Bolsonaro cut federal education funding, threatened reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, stripped away protections for Indigenous land, and contributed to mass deforestation of the Amazon. 

Lula served jail time in the ’70s for protesting the dictatorship. He’s a member of the Workers Party who promises to work towards economic and social justice by increasing taxes on the wealthy, expanding social housing, and tackling the hunger crisis. He also plans to strengthen conservation efforts in the Amazon.

While Brazil’s ousting of Bolsonaro is an uplifting win for the world, the reaction from far-right groups in Brazil parallels the reactions to the 2020 U.S presidential election with the raid on the capital. After Bolsonaro’s loss, hundreds of blockades made up of people, vehicles, and fire, caused over 60 collective miles of traffic jams, the cancellation of 1,400 buses, numerous accidents, and the disruption of the transportation of food and goods. These protests were held to encourage the Brazilian military to intervene and stop the transfer of power from Bolsonaro to Lula. 

The Brazilian constitution does not allow the military to intervene in politics, and those in support of their intervention are thus in support of breaking apart Brazil’s democracy and suggesting nostalgia for the prior military dictatorship.

Democracy only works when members of both the winning and losing parties recognize its legitimacy. By these standards, democracy is not being successfully upheld in Brazil, as far-right voters refuse to accept Bolsonaro’s loss.

During his presidency, Bolsonaro decried the legitimacy of the electronic polling system that the country uses, instilling doubt in the integrity of Brazilian democracy among citizens. This may have strategically contributed to results found in pre-election surveys which showed that one-quarter of the Brazilians who planned to vote for Bolsonaro said that the president should not recognize the result if he loses. 

The social division in Brazil is reminiscent of division in America. Social media is littered with fights and neighbors rivaling because their yards advertised opposing signs. Many of Trump’s ideals and political mannerisms are identical to Bolsonaros; both have been known to make public racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. Following their losses, both leaders hesitated to denounce the disruptions held in their name, with Trump taking multiple hours to speak up and Bolsonaro taking multiple days.

The same far-right Americans who protested Trump’s 2020 loss are now supporting the protests for Bolsonaro. Far-right activist Ali Alexander, who organized the “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the Capital riot, posted on social media, “Take to the streets, brothers of Brazil! Military standby,” and went on to claim that the Biden administration played a role in rigging Brazil’s election. Similar right-wing U.S. activists, such as Steve Bannon, said on social media that Bolsonaro “Cannot concede.”

The similarities between protests in Brazil and in the U.S. demonstrate that the threat to democracy is not limited to Brazil in this period of unrest. Election denial is a dangerous, global, lasting trend that goes hand in hand with tearing countries apart.

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