Elections and Democracy

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By LEONARDO AVRITZER*

Excerpt from the recently released book – Elections 2022 and the reconstruction of democracy in Brazil

Among Brazilians, there is an ambiguous opinion regarding the democracy that was formed during the recent political crisis in the country. Fortunately, this perspective began to unravel at the beginning of the 2022 electoral process, opening up a new perspective of democratic reconstruction on October 30 with the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency of the Republic. It allows Brazil to move from a conception of relativization of democracy – which was hegemonic between 2018 and 2022 – to a conception of democratic reconstruction – which opened after Lula’s election, with the speech of the mayor, Arthur Lira, recognizing the electoral result and with the movements of the president-elect among the various democratic institutions: Chamber, Senate and Federal Supreme Court (STF).

In this opening article of the book Elections 2022 and the reconstruction of democracy in Brazil, we will show that there is a partial recovery of Brazilians' confidence in democracy, but that there is still a long way to go in the recovery of democratic institutions and the reconquest of governability.

Since 2018, the Institute for Democracy and Democratization of Communication (INCT/IDDC) has carried out a survey at the opening of the electoral process, entitled “The face of democracy in Brazil”, in which we gauge the satisfaction and confidence of Brazilians in democracy. When the 2022 electoral process began, our survey was conducted using questions identical to those asked in 2018. In 2022, the new version of the survey collected more positive responses in relation to democracy. The good news for the country was that the number of Brazilians who would not accept a coup d'état increased – for 59% of respondents, democracy is preferable to any other form of government; above all, the survey also showed that the majority of Brazilians do not accept a coup, not even in a scenario of high corruption or increased crime.

Therefore, these positive data shown by the survey gain even more relevance when we remember the political background in which these questions were asked. In June 2022, the Armed Forces insisted on promoting a technical audit of the ballot boxes as a result of an invitation, made the previous year by Minister Luís Roberto Barroso, for the military to be part of the External Transparency Commission established by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE). The entry of the military into the transparency commission ended up generating a report that was not well founded, but which was used by President Jair Bolsonaro to try to disturb the beginning of the electoral process. On June 19, 2022, a few weeks before the start of the electoral campaign, Jair Bolsonaro repeated admittedly false news about electronic voting machines automatically completing votes, news based on videos that had already been recognized as manipulated and edited. Thus, such recognition, by Brazilian public opinion, of the importance of democracy and opposition to a political rupture that was not only hypothetical, but also became concrete due to the speech and actions of then-President Jair Bolsonaro, was no small feat.

However, even in the face of these positive aspects in relation to democracy, another phenomenon had been detected in our surveys since 2021, becoming extremely relevant throughout the 2022 electoral process: the growth of the extreme right in Brazil. When we carried out our first survey, in 2018, we detected that 21% of respondents classified themselves as right-wing, which constituted an important change in a country where no one openly declared themselves as such in the early 2010s. The time undoubtedly represented the end of the phenomenon commonly called the “embarrassed right” – that is, part of Brazilians were no longer ashamed to assume a political identity with the guidelines and guidelines of the right, and the negative connotation of “being from right” was no longer a cause for annoyance or concern.

In 2022, the survey “The face of democracy” revealed something even more disturbing: the increase in the number of Brazilians who declared themselves to be right-wing, especially at the extreme points of the self-classification table, as shown below.

graphic 1 – Ideological self-positioning

Source: Research “The Face of Democracy” (2022).

That is, the electoral process began with an intensely polarized group of Brazilians whose positions we had already perceived as extremely radical in relation to the pandemic, the vaccine and social isolation during the years 2020 and 2021. These Brazilians gradually moved away from the political center and assuming a position of support for Jair Bolsonaro at any price. In this way, we can show that the electoral process began under the shadow of a strong growth of the extreme right, whose support increased from 22% to 36% between 2018 and 2022. At the same time, it is also worth noting that the then President Bolsonaro – who can be considered both a president and a leader of an extreme right-wing anti-political movement – ​​began to act with a view to non-institutionalized forms of political support in the streets, a process that, even after the 2022 elections, did not come to an end.

It was in this context of increasing extremism that we witnessed the transformation of the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the Independence of Brazil into a movement to reinforce conservative values ​​and attack the political system. It is worth remembering that the president had already used the event to publicize his agendas and to threaten the other powers of the Republic. On September 7, 2021, Jair Bolsonaro strongly attacked the powers, especially the Judiciary, by summoning truck drivers to Brasília to defend the closure of the STF and challenge Minister Alexandre de Moraes. Jair Bolsonaro, at that event, stated: “Either the head of this Power fits yours or this Power can suffer what we don’t want, because we value, recognize and know the value of each Power of the Republic” (Avritzer; Santana, 2022). That is, real threats to the STF were made in 2021.

In 2022, the mobilization around Sete de Setembro was different, but still very significant from an electoral point of view. At that moment, Bolsonaro, already a candidate for re-election, occupied the platform alone, subtracting all other powers of the Republic from the celebration. On the stage, on the day of the event, the president was alone as the protagonist of that spectacle – beside him, only the vice president, Hamilton Mourão, the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and the businessman Luciano Hang, target of the operation of the Federal Police (PF). No representative of the other powers was there – not even the ally Arthur Lira, from Centrão, signaling a deepening of the president's institutional isolation. At the same time, Jair Bolsonaro was consolidating extra-institutional support in Sete de Setembro that he would mobilize until the post-electoral moment. This support was not greater only because Minister Alexandre de Moraes issued a series of bans on the presence of trucks at events planned at the Esplanada dos Ministérios, in Brasília.

In the electoral process that began in August 2022, the scenario projected by the Independence Day event became more acute and potentiated. President Jair Bolsonaro consolidated his role as head of a radicalized group of supporters who accompanied him on motorcycles, in speeches of aggression against the STF and in changes to the rules of the game in favor of his candidacy and his supporters. The biggest change in the rules of the game was, of course, the approval of emergency measures that allowed approximately 1% of GDP to be spent through various types of aid – emergency, truck driver, taxi driver – during the electoral process.

Since these demonstrations, another phenomenon has manifested itself: the removal of the president's centrist electorate as he campaigned with a focus only on his own supporters.

The survey carried out by the Institute of Democracy shortly after the event confirmed this hypothesis: for 44% of those interviewed, Bolsonaro's chances of being re-elected decreased after Sete de Setembro. Therefore, it is possible to transform this event into a paradigm of electoral behavior: on the one hand, Bolsonaro grew because of the emergency aid and the support he got in the South and Southeast regions. On the other hand, the then president always found it difficult to overcome more than 50% rejection of his candidacy, especially when he carried out actions that sought to reinforce the anti-democratic Bolsonarist core, which only fully expressed itself in the week after the second round, with their requests for military intervention.

It is worth analyzing the results of the elections by taking the result of each of the two rounds separately. The first round expressed classic forms of organization of the political system. The Workers' Party (PT), with the candidacy of former president Lula, recovered all the spaces he had lost in 2018: it won elections in the North region, especially in the important states of Amazonas and Pará; not only had a very strong vote in the Northeast region, but also won in the state of Minas Gerais and in the city of São Paulo – despite having lost in the state by a significant difference. However, the first round vote also generated unfavorable results for the PT in the gubernatorial elections of the three main states in the Southeast region.

In the proportional elections for Parliament, attention was drawn to the strong vote of the PL, which won 99 seats in the Chamber, and the significant votes for the Senate of some of the main Bolsonarist leaders, such as Damares Alves and Marcos Pontes, and the impressive vote of Eduardo Pazuello for the Chamber of Deputies. These results mean that, even though Jair Bolsonaro was defeated for the presidency of the Republic in the first round, a result confirmed in the second round, there is a social and political base of the extreme right that will continue to exist in Brazil for a long time and that will pose problems for governance in the near future.

In the 2022 electoral process, the main difference between the first and second rounds was, on the one hand, the expansion of the coalition supporting President Lula, with the accession of the candidate of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), Simone Tebet, and, on the other, the increase in support for President Jair Bolsonaro in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. While the electoral landscape remained relatively stable in the North, Northeast, Midwest and South regions, the Southeast region became the battleground for the second round. On the side of the Lula candidacy, the support of Simone Tebet, the decisive support of important personalities of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), such as former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and important economists of the Real Plan, such as Pérsio Arida and André Lara Resende , created a coalition that enabled an increase in the electorate in the Northeast region and an improvement in voting intentions in the Southeast region.

Even so, Jair Bolsonaro managed to make his candidacy grow a lot in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, but the final result of the election showed that the candidacy of former president Lula was victorious, revealing a capacity for rearticulating the electorate in the Southeast region , with the significant victory in the city of São Paulo, and even a capacity to recover important spaces in the South region, with the victory in the city of Porto Alegre.

Thus, what we have as a result of the 2022 elections is a tight advantage of a broad political coalition, the largest formed since the beginning of the New Republic, strong enough to start a democratic reconstruction of the country. Still on the night of the second round election, on October 30, we had evidence of the beginning of a process of political reconstruction in the two main speeches of the night: that of the elected president, Lula, and that of the president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira. Both signaled the end of the friend/enemy logic and the polarization instituted by Bolsonarism.

However, we cannot deny that, in the week following the elections, we witnessed a series of protest demonstrations, roadblocks and requests for military intervention by a strong and movementist extreme right, showing that the Bolsonarist objective of strengthening the right in Brazil it has been achieved, either with regard to a strong conservative group in the Chamber and Senate, or with regard to the presence of anti-institutional actors with the strength and capacity to destabilize the political game if they were not contained by the Judiciary. Thus, if Lula's victory expresses a change in the correlation of forces and a defeat of Bolsonarism as a form of government, we can have no doubt that the governance of Brazil by the president and the center-left forces has become more difficult. and more complex after the elections.

 

Agendas for the Lula government and for the democratic reconstruction of Brazil

There are at least three very important agendas for the new Lula government in the short term. The first of these refers to the establishment of a new relationship with Congress based on budget transparency. Jair Bolsonaro, at first, was not concerned with forming majorities in Congress. But, after the election of Arthur Lira to the presidency of the Chamber, Jair Bolsonaro changed his posture and now has an automatic and depoliticized majority. It was she who gave rise to the most strongly anti-republican element in the entire trajectory of the National Congress, the secret budget. This set of amendments fragments the budget, breaks with the principle of citizenship in the distribution of public resources and removes the planning of public policies from the hands of the Executive, without placing it in anyone's hands.

The Lula government has to regain control of the budget and publicize it within a logic of resuming Executive control over the public budget. President Lula's courtesy visit to Congress was, evidently, very important to establish a space for negotiation with a Congress in which he does not seem to have a majority; however, achieving this cannot do without restoring the principles of transparency that the president promised to re-establish during the electoral campaign.

The second important agenda is the establishment of a horizontal and collaborative relationship with the STF. It was up to this institution, after the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, to assume a leading role in the defense of democracy. In particular, from the complete co-option of the Chamber in the Arthur Lira administration, the STF acted as the last bastion of the defense of democracy. It was in this role of defender of democracy that Alexandre de Moraes, as president of the TSE, took on an unprecedented role by removing hundreds of YouTube profiles and channels from the air that were part of what we now call the “disinformation ecosystem”. This role continued after the elections, with orders to remove roadblocks and take down profiles questioning the election result. Evidently, this role as the last bastion of democracy, assumed by both the STF and the TSE, was important, but it must be taken into account that a complementary relationship between the powers is necessary for the restoration of democracy and governability.

Some arenas of public policies assumed, after the election, a special role. The so-called “Transition PEC” paved the way for the resumption of a State policy to protect the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The proposed amendment to the Constitution (PEC) seemed fundamental to re-establish a relationship of trust between the State, the political system and the most vulnerable sectors among Brazilians. It is important to highlight that the protection of the vulnerable implies two agendas: that of the State, with these sectors, and that of a middle class, encouraged by Bolsonarism to ignore the most vulnerable, which needs to regain solidarity with the poorest. The reconstitution of a balanced social fabric requires that both sectors recognize themselves as part of citizenship, in their vulnerabilities and in the notion of concern for the most vulnerable that must be part of the notion of nationality. Restoring the democratic social fabric involves making both moves.

Finally, the environmental agenda: the visit of the president-elect to the 27th edition of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP-27) opened the important prospect of restoring a relationship between Brazil and countries concerned with the environment and the Amazon. Jair Bolsonaro has turned the Amazon into the connection point for their disagreements with progressive actors in the interior of the country and abroad. He not only dismantled the real-time monitoring structures for the fires, but also criminally dismantled the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), in addition to turning a blind eye to the expansion of mining in indigenous lands. All these elements, together, created an imbalance in the region and, even more importantly, a radical impasse in Brazil's relations with European countries and with environmental actors in the rest of the world. The Amazon has become a symbol of tension between Brazil and the world, and the resumption of an active policy to protect the region and indigenous peoples has the potential to restore Brazil's role in a democratic international order.

The result of the 2022 elections is a precarious shift of political hegemony in Brazil in favor of those who want a democratic reconstruction. Despite this precariousness, marked by a relevant presence of conservative and anti-democratic forces in the political scene, the change in hegemony opens up an enormous field of possibilities, as we will show in several contributions in this book. The rapid construction of a positive relationship between the powers after Lula's victory showed the potential for a relatively quick democratic restoration. The breadth of the transition team and a collaborative relationship between its different actors pointed in the same direction. The adoption of a positive posture by the press in relation to the democratic field cemented this virtuous circuit of political relations.

The democratic reconstruction of Brazil is possible, but fundamentally depends on the continuity of positive relations between the different sectors of the democratic field. Bolsonarism, as a movement, will continue as long as these relationships are precarious and will take advantage of any weakening of these relationships. It is up to the sectors that forged the greatest democratic alliance since redemocratization to ensure that democratic forces advance and make permanent the democratic reconstruction that began with the election of President Lula in October 2022.

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil (Brazilian civilization).

Reference


Leonardo Avritzer, Eliara Santana and Rachel Callai Bragato (eds.). Elections 2022 and the reconstruction of democracy in Brazil. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2023, 240 pages.

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