The hindered democracy

Image: Vera Nilsson


Commentary on the book by Guilherme Wanderley dos Santos

Impeded democracy: Brazil in the XNUMXst century is the last book written by Guilherme Wanderley dos Santos, one of the most eminent Brazilian political scientists, who died on October 25, 2019, produced in the heat of the events of the impeachment of the mandate of President Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers' Party (PT), which occurred in August 2016 by the Brazilian parliament.

Contrary to what one might suppose, the book does not focus on the political situation, rather, it offers the reader a dense analysis of the contemporary Brazilian socio-political reality, but, first, it goes through the representative European oligarchies, from before the second world war, and then it arrives to the construction of today's mass representative democracies, including that of Brazil.

The book articulates six well-written, hermetic and factually dense small chapters, which require the reader's attention and willingness to, perhaps, read them more than once, especially neophytes in the theme of democracy and who seek to apprehend the theme. Another characteristic of the text is the author's eclectic writing style and an articulated narrative with hints of fine sarcastic humor that encourages the reader's concentration.

At the outset, in the preface, the author warns that the book is not propaganda, it is a critical reflection on modern democracy. And he adds that it is not an innocent book, it competes with ideas and interest, the interest in presenting an interpretation of the political facts of the 2016 parliamentary coup, supported by a broader understanding of the construction of modern representative democracy. In a few words, it makes it clear that the impeachment of President Dilma was a “parliamentary bureaucratic coup, with the connivance of conservative elites. (…) Miscreants with no future project” (p. 8).

Chapter one is dedicated to a dense and in-depth analysis of representative democracy and the constitutional parliamentary coup. For the author, in mass representative democracy, modern, consolidated or in consolidation, constitutional parliamentary coups are unprecedented. They differ from a military coup, like those that occurred in Latin American countries in the 1960s and 70s, and from a revolutionary takeover, since the latter, after taking power, works to conquer society. The constitutional parliamentary coup, according to the author, is violence, a constitutional legal transgression, one could say, a circumvention of the laws that, in theory, should ensure the legitimacy of representative democracy based on universal suffrage, but it occurs in a frantic interpretative dispute about the legality of the act through institutional bodies that should ensure the legality of democracy. To exemplify the phenomenon, it presents the parliamentary coups of Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012) and Brazil (2016). And, I could add to this list the coup in Bolivia (2019), in which the president of that country had his constitutionally elected mandate interrupted.

Mass representative democracy differs from representative oligarchies. The author presents the characteristics of these phenomena, indicating that, after Greek democracy, in practice, it was resumed in an incipient way between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and representative oligarchies existed in Europe from the XNUMXth century until the mid-XNUMXth century. By representative oligarchies, the author understands political systems in which the democratic process was incomplete, as the rate of legal, political or military repression was higher than that of massive political systems.

In oligarchies, electoral participation was not universal, it was restricted to some sectors of society, whether due to economic or other criteria. In this case, the female vote, for a long period excluded from the political process, when admitted strongly contributed to the electoral mass, but it was only accepted in many so-called democratic societies in the mid-twentieth century, and the vote of illiterate people was assured only in the second half of that century. It was these deliberations that, decisively, caused the number of voters to become greater than half of the population in countries with a representative democratic regime and made oligarchies give way to mass representative democracies.

Representative democracies, says the author, expanded in number of voters both in Europe and in other parts of the world in the post-Second World War, admit freedom of debate, free expression of opinion, collective actions of citizens, massive political participation in the choice of representatives and pluralism of political associations. These, however, are characteristics of minimalist democracy, which the author defines as “a regime that completely satisfies the two following conditions: (a) electoral competition for places of power, at regular intervals, with explicit rules, and whose results are conditioned by the competitors ; (b) the participation of the community in the competition takes place under the rule of universal suffrage, with the limiting age requirement as the only barrier” (p. 25).

For this definition, the author presents a series of examples of representative oligarchies that passed to mass representative democracy in European countries with admission of universal suffrage from the end of the first half of the 1940th century. In several Central American countries, the absence of women's suffrage in electoral contests made them representative oligarchies and their admission to the political process took place between the 1960s and 1960s. However, between the 1980s and 80s, representative democracy was compromised by political regimes. military personnel in Central American countries, and, little by little, it took on a life of its own from the second half of the XNUMXs onwards with the return of direct elections.

In chapter two, entitled “1964 and 2016: two coups, two scripts”, the author scrutinizes Brazilian politics and exposes the innards of the military and parliamentary coups. Different, these two coups occur in different historical-political moments and non-compliant realities in the economic, social and political aspects, but, despite these disparities, the coup governments presented similar concerns, because while President João Goulart was involved with basic reforms ( agrarian, education, university, tax, administrative, among others), with the aim of restructuring political institutions, President Dilma Rousseff strengthened the social participation system and reinforced social policy programs with the aim of abolishing extreme poverty and reducing socioeconomic inequalities.

For the author, another common point between the two political facts separated in time by more than half a century is the theme of corruption, which, believable or not, was used as a ferment of social mobilization in the removal of those governments. The subject of corruption, says Santos, is not new in Brazil, denunciations of this nefarious practice in politics date back to the colonial historical period, and it continues to serve as an alibi to strike governments with practices that threaten progressive policies in Brazil. The subjects of such anticonstitutional acts, largely, converge: they are businessmen, conservative politicians, sectors of the media (part of it the same as in 1964) and other conservative sectors of society that are articulated against the government. However, in 2016 the “economic deterioration, mismanagement of the government’s political conduct, it is said, provided the fertilizer for the coup preaching, started on the suspicion of non-existent electoral fraud, to prosper, ending up victorious in the assault on government power” (p. . 47).

At the heart of this discussion, to illustrate the different contexts of anti-constitutional acts, the author analyzes Brazilian political ecology: he exposes the characteristics and population changes in urban/rural dynamics between the years 1960 and 2010; records the electoral evolution and participation in elections in European countries and in Brazil, highlighting the latter for the constant participation of voters in elections, but warns of the fact that voting is compulsory here and; cites research data (IPEA, IBGE and ABONG) on the change in social capillarity, in the dynamism of society and in the diversity of collective actors today. These elements, for Santos, influenced the two Brazilian coups differently, but there is a common point to the near coups and effective coups of the 1950s, 1960s and 2016, “the rejection [of the Brazilian economic and political elites] of the economic and social progress of the classes vulnerable” (p. 42).

Also in this chapter, the author emphasizes the performance of political parties and voting in Brazil and several other countries with data on voter participation in elections. In Brazil, first there was the census vote, of free men with economic possessions, then, in the Republic, universal suffrage was instituted for men over 21 years of age, female suffrage was allowed in 1932, and the illiterate population, excluded from the right to vote since the elections of the colonial period, was allowed in the year 1985.

However, this dropper electoral participation is directly related to the (re)distributive conflict of social groups, that is, there is a tacit (and often explicit) dispute in society for socially produced goods and wealth, in which the economically favored layers always earn more. The State, in this dispute, had (has) a historical role in supporting the economic and political elites, to the detriment of the popular classes, hence the social policies of inclusion of a less favored portion of the population in the consumer market and in the public services of progressive governments greatly intensified the (re)distributive conflict to the point of the government not sustaining itself.

In the two following chapters: “on elections and distributive processes and the succession of the oligarchy through electoral competition”, the author deepens his reading of the global political reality. He develops four central ideas about the electoral process and the redistribution of socially produced goods, which are: transformations in the electoral process (parties, universal suffrage, electoral population...) of construction of oligarchies and representative democracies, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, permeating the industrial revolution, the French revolution and the two great world wars; the process of economic growth, in the same period, associated with population growth and cycles of productive stagnation; industrial inventions (steam engine, communication, transport…) that contributed to the process of development of oligarchies and; the economic advances of the industrial revolution that cause distributive (capital and labor) and political (between classes) conflicts.

Following this discussion, the centrality is the analysis of the processes of succession of the oligarchies through the mass electoral process. For Santos, the main point of rupture and overcoming of the representative oligarchies was the universalization of the vote associated with the growth of electoral turnout above 50% of the housing population in democratic societies, with majority and proportional systems in electoral disputes above zero, that is, competition between candidates is above one. Here, the author resumes the discussion on the evolution of the electorate, since the census vote, in European countries in the 1832th century, such as the English electoral reform of 1850 that increased the number of voters, and the clashes between antagonistic political groups for the expansion and limitation giving privileges to privileged groups, such as the French electoral reform of 2016, which reduced voter participation in elections to one third, which is why, according to the author, Karl Marx classified this act as the first coup d'état by the bourgeoisie. This discussion supports the author's notion of representative oligarchies evolving into representative democracy. Finally, this discussion on electoral participation is taken to Brazil today and examined in the possibilities of the XNUMX parliamentary coup, despite the vigor of representative and mass democracy in the country.

In the penultimate chapter, the author focuses the analysis on the Brazilian political reality and highlights the interruptions of democracy. He understands that the structuring political plot of coups d'état is almost always based on the sometimes frustrated justification of the coup's legitimacy. In this respect, it displays the script of how opposition actors become the government and the government, overnight, becomes the opposition through a coup d'état. This discussion, in turn, refers to the examination of population growth, between the years 1950 and 1991, when the Brazilian geographic regions presented, each in its own proportion, four, five, six to more than ten times the population increase. This population growth gives a hook to the analogy of the sociopolitical context of the 1960s, the backdrop of the military political coup, and the different conditions of the 2016 parliamentary coup.

In the latter, the author focuses on the implementation process of developmental and inclusive policies of the PT governments, cooled by the economic crisis of 2008, but despite the adverse international context, social inclusion in those governments was expansive (social programs, employment policy, real gains of salary, also exemption from social charges for companies and tax incentives for entrepreneurs) and resulted in the emergence of a new Brazilian middle class.

In the last chapter of the book, with an ironically suggestive title “the constitutional expropriation of the vote”, the author begins by questioning: How is it possible to constitutionally expropriate the vote by assuring citizens? He answers the question by reviewing the attempts at a coup d'état in the government of Getúlio Vargas in 1954, in 1955 with the attempt to impede the inauguration of Juscelino Kubitschek, in 1961 with the resignation of President Jânio Quadros and impediment of the inauguration of Vice João Goulart and the effective military coup of 1964. In these coup attempts, according to the author, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) affirmed the defense of constitutional legality and maintained the will of the people. However, in the author's view, Penal Action 470 (AP), of 2006, which denounces the purchase of votes in the national congress by the government of President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, called monthly allowance, the Federal Public Ministry denounced 40 people (deputies, businessmen and former ministers) for conspiracy, money laundering, illegal tax evasion, active and passive corruption, embezzlement. The lawsuit was followed up by the STF, which sentenced 24 defendants. For the author, AP 470 cemented the path of the complacent posture of the STF with the legitimization arguments of the 2016 parliamentary coup.

In this sense, Santos discusses three theses of STF justices regarding the judgment of AP 470, which seemed to him to be far-fetched and far from constitutional precepts, inaugurating his position in the analysis of the impeachment of President Dilma’s mandate: Justice Joaquim Barbosa, rapporteur of AP 470 , stated that the “Constitution is what the STF says it is”; in that same case, justices Aeres Brito, in relation to the conviction of one of the defendants without documentation or indexes of the crime, stated that “it was impossible that the accused did not know about the x and y criminal conditions”; and Minister Rosa Weber, in turn, develops yet another strange thesis “the higher someone's position in the chain of command, the easier it is for them to be cautious about erasing clues”. Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos contests these reasonings and shows that the judges judged the action, at least in part, disregarding constitutional requirements, in the case of some defendants, such as former Minister José Dirceu. He claims to be unable to indicate whether or not the defendant was innocent, as he was unaware of the case file, but in his analysis the trial of this case was flawed.

The author also makes it clear that this judgment established a procedure in the STF, in a distorted interpretation of the constitution, which legitimized the 2016 constitutional parliamentary coup. the thesis of the accusers and constitutes a flagrant constitutional rupture, starting in the Chamber of Deputies and confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Thus, the constitution was used to legitimize the coup and expropriate the vote of the legitimately elected president. And, he concludes his narrative without presenting final considerations to the book: the economic crisis; the return of unemployment; the role of the media in propaganda against the government; the mobilization of the contras; the withering away of government in public opinion and; the lack of a political base in the national congress made the coup political forces act successfully once again, putting an end to a legitimate government and hosting a government that the people did not elect on the plateau.

*Francisco Mesquita de Oliveira is teacher of Department of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI).



Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos. Impeded Democracy: Brazil in the XNUMXst Century. Rio de Janeiro, FGV Editora, 2017, 187 pages.


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