Elections and popular participation

Image: Berk Ozdemir


Which social and political system can offer the best conditions for Brazilians to develop?

“The democratic method is an institutional system for making political decisions, in which the individual acquires the power to decide through a competitive struggle for the votes of the voter” (Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, socialism and democracy).

The 2022 elections reinforce the Brazilian political system, of a liberal democratic nature, with broad popular participation. We have a system for counting votes using electronic ballot boxes, which, despite being questioned by a specific political group, proved to be reliable, safe and agile.

Democracies have as a fundamental assumption the recognition and obedience on the part of individuals, parties and alliances or political groups organized in a given historical period to the established rules, according to which, through the election, those who gather the greatest number of votes are considered winners .

In the literature of political and legal sciences, thinkers such as Norberto Bobbio (2018), Robert Dahl (2001) and Joseph Schumpeter (1961), even though they make different contributions to democratic systems, converge on the principle that it is necessary to have rules and well-established and recognized norms and respect for the process of choosing representations, in which a political majority is constituted for the implementation of certain programs, with the group that obtains the most votes exercising the main political power.

Electronic ballot boxes and the questioning of electoral rules

President Jair Bolsonaro (PL), elected in 2018 through electronic ballot boxes, was the main character to question this methodology. For the President of the Republic, the electronic voting machines are not reliable because the way of measuring the electoral result does not count on the printing of the vote. Jair Bolsonaro started to defend “auditable electronic ballot boxes” as a claim flag. This proposal was presented in the Federal Chamber by deputy Bia Kicis (PL/DF) through PEC 135/19 in which “It adds § 12 to art. 14, of the Federal Constitution, providing that, in voting and counting of elections, plebiscites and referendums, it is mandatory to issue physical ballots, which can be checked by the voter, to be deposited in impermeable ballot boxes, for auditing purposes”. (CHAMBER OF DEPUTY, 2019). The proposal was rejected in the House Plenary in August 2021.

In a survey, Datafolha followed the popular opinion on the reliability of the voting machine through surveys carried out between December 2020 and July 2022. On four occasions there were important variations, each period influenced by the debate at the time. In December 2020, those who considered the electronic voting machine to be very reliable added up to 33%; those who considered it somewhat reliable were 36%; those who do not trust were 29% and did not know remained at 2%. As of March 2022, very reliable: 47%; somewhat reliable: 35%; did not trust: 17% and did not know: 1%. As of May 2022, very reliable: 42%; somewhat reliable: 31%; did not trust: 24%; and did not know: 2%. Finally, in the last round of research on electronic voting machines, carried out in July 2022, the data were: very reliable: 47%; somewhat reliable: 32%; did not trust: 20% and did not know: 1% (DATA SHEET, 2022). Next, in Table 1, we present the most relevant data for this work, systematized.

Tabela 1: Summary of the Datafolha survey on trust in electronic ballot boxes

PeriodtrustDo not trustDo not know
DEC 202069%29%2%
MAR 202282%17%1%
May 202273%24%2%
July 202279%20%1%

Source: DATA SHEET, 2022, in: https://g1.globo.com/jornal-nacional/noticia/2022/07/30/datafolha-confianca-dos-brasileiros-nas-urnas-eletronicas-cresce-de-73percent-para-79percent.ghtml

Confidence in electronic ballot boxes was expressed by the vast majority of Brazilian society, as seen in a recent survey and, mainly, in the manifestation of the vote and its result.

When President Jair Bolsonaro questions the voting machine, in fact, he confronts the electoral law and this created a certain instability in the Brazilian democratic regime throughout his mandate.

The most delicate moment of this questioning took place at the celebration of September 7, 2021, in the city of São Paulo, President Bolsonaro gave a speech considered disproportionate to the role he performs. The president attacked the minister of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) Alexandre de Moraes and cast doubt on the Brazilian electoral system.

In a part of his speech, President Bolsonaro said: “[…] we have a minister of the Supreme Court who dares to continue doing what we do not admit. Either this minister fits in or he asks to leave… tell this individual that he still has time to redeem himself. He still has time to file his inquiries. Or rather, his time is up. Exit, Alexandre de Moraes. Stop being a scoundrel... any decision by Mr. Alexandre de Moraes, this president will no longer comply. The patience of our people has run out” (PODER 360, 2021, online).

Still in his speech on September 7, 2021, President Jair Bolsonaro made a series of attacks on electronic voting machines and threats to the 2022 electoral process. we believe in and want democracy, the soul of democracy is voting. We cannot accept an electoral system that does not offer any security during elections. Also say that it is not a person from the Superior Electoral Court who will tell us that this process is safe and reliable because it is not” (PODER 360, 2021, online).

This instability has raised important doubts raised by the President of the Republic, but the main one is the real commitment of this far-right political group to democracy.

During the term of Jair Bolsonaro, there were many expressions of contempt for the rules of the Brazilian political and electoral system. Journalist Merval Pereira recalled in his column Petista has to turn the game of the role that the president played in stimulating demonstrations in front of Army barracks and encouraging the banner of military intervention. The journalist records: “[Bolsonaro] did not have the support of the military in any of the crucial moments he provoked, the highlights of which were the celebrations of September 7.” (PEREIRA, 2022, p. 2). Bolsonaro did not go ahead with an attempt at institutional rupture because he did not have a correlation of forces in society and in the military institutions in his favor.

The newspaper columnist The Globe, Pablo Ortellado went further in his criticism of the government and the extreme right, in the article “The coup strategy” he states that there was a coup attempt after the results of the polls: “Unsurprisingly, Jair Bolsonaro reacted to the defeat with a cunning coup plot that , by all appearances, has failed. The strategy has so far three stages. The first was roadblocks with the support of truck drivers and the connivance, if not support, of the Federal Highway Police (PRF). The second was the demonstrations in front of the barracks calling for “federal intervention”. The third announced now is a “strike” – in fact a lockout” (ORTELLADO, 2022, p. 3).

The democratic transition through the formation of the outgoing and elected government groups is an important civilizing political milestone, one of the good legacies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government. Overcoming the electoral environment is essential for the proper functioning of Brazilian institutions. Having no doubts about the legitimacy of the laws that establish the electoral regime is a central part of our democracy. And the role of the Armed Forces in such a delicate environment demonstrates the maturity and consolidation of the Brazilian State.

Still on electronic ballot boxes, the advent of this model enhanced popular participation in elections. From 1996 onwards, the first votes were taken through this electronic system, which proved to be the most agile and practical system to avoid fraud. The model that was able to qualify the vote, because, from its adoption, the use of the valid vote jumped exponentially.

In 1994, when the electronic ballot box did not yet exist, taking the state of São Paulo as a parameter, the votes for President of the Republic totaled 84,56%, null 9,53%, white 5,91%. For the state government, 76,22% of the votes were valid, 9,39% null and 14,38% white. The most important thing in changing the pattern of voting is the expression of proportional votes. For federal deputies there were 57,86% valid votes, 30,16% null votes and 11,98% blank votes. For state deputies there were 58,79% of valid votes, 28,13% of null votes and 13,08% of blank votes. In that election, abstention was 11,37% (CARVALHO; CHAIA; COELHO, 2015, p. 49).

In 1998, the election in which the majority of voters could already use electronic voting, a qualitative change was felt. Taking the same electorate in the state of São Paulo as a parameter, the advent of the electronic ballot box can be considered a success. Valid votes for President of the Republic increased to 83,50%, null 10,18% and white 6,31%. For the state government there were 85,31% of valid votes, 7,15% null and 7,52% white. For federal deputies, the change was significant, with 80,16% of the votes valid, 9,88% null and 9,95% white. State deputies followed the same logic with 80,89% valid votes, 9,47% null votes and 9,63% blank votes. Abstention was 16,51%. (CARVALHO; CHAIA; COELHO, 2015, p. 49).

In 2002, the qualitative leap widened and we had in the state of São Paulo 91,56% of the valid votes for President of the Republic, 5,10% null and 3,32% white. For governor there were 90,90% of valid votes, 4,95% null and 4,13% blank. For extraordinary federal deputies 90,95% of valid votes, 3,53% of null and 5,51% of blank votes. For state deputies, the same line was followed with 90,68% of valid votes, 3,48% of null votes and 5,83% of blank votes. Abstention was 15,93% of the votes (CARVALHO; CHAIA; COELHO, p. 49).

To finalize this comparative method, let's take the 2022 election as a basis, 20 years after the beginning of the complete process of using electronic ballot boxes in Brazil. Again, as a reference the cut of the state of São Paulo. For President of the Republic we had 94,36% of valid votes, added to 3,54% of null votes and 2,10% of blank votes. For the state government there were 86,02% of valid votes, 7,92% of null votes and 6,06% of blank votes. For federal deputies there were 87,49% of valid votes, 5,42% of null votes and 7,09% of blank votes. For state deputies there were 85,82% of valid votes, 5,92% of null votes and another 8,26% of blank votes. Absent voters accounted for 21,63% of voters in São Paulo. (ELECTIONS 2022, 2022, online).

It is very important that we highlight the efficiency of electronic voting as an objective demonstration of the popular will and the free and democratic manifestation of the people and their choices.

Voter turnout and voter abstentions

Political scientist Jairo Nicolau (2012) records that Brazil is the fourth largest democracy in the world, second only to India, the USA and Indonesia. If we update this interpretation to the closest cultural models, considering our democracy as liberal, representative and western, we are the second largest democracy in the world.

Brazilians like to vote! In the country of football, the heated debate is comparable to that of organized supporters. Brazilians like to give their opinion! In a broad and imperfect democracy, the most varied theses are expressed to justify their decisions. The people have a perception of the sides that are at stake, of the ideas of the candidates, there is a certain awareness of the choices they are making.

Different from the opinions propagated by some political scientists and jurists between the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2022 elections about abstentions as determinants of the electoral result. It is also not possible to define that these were decisive for a result in the polls different from some polls where candidate Luís Inácio Lula da Silva won in the 1st round.

Political scientist Antonio Lavareda makes the following diagnosis about the electoral polls after the 2nd round: “(…).[The polls] failed to apprehend the probable abstention, which notably harmed the candidate Lula, due to the large concentration of his voters in the base of the social pyramid”. (WASHED, 2022). Then, Antonio Lavareda records that applying a method adapted to that of Perry-Gallup, in which voters who may not go to the polls are subtracted, it was identified that Lula's margin of victory would be even narrower.

If we look at the 2022 abstentions, in the 1st and 2nd shifts, they were the same 79,05%, with a minimal total difference. Therefore, historically the same number means a decrease in abstentions in the 2nd round, always compared to previous elections, where the increase in absentees was between 1% and 2% more from one round to another. And the result was a very tight election with a difference of less than 2% between Lula and Jair Bolsonaro. The factors of political polarization and the use of the state machine offer more precise elements for the electoral result.

In a broader survey, since redemocratization in the 1980s, with the exception of the 1989 election, in which turnout was extraordinary, the stability of voter turnout is around 81% in the 1st round and 79% in the 2nd. Below, we present a comparative table of turnout, year by year, including the 1989 election and the 1994 and 1998 elections, in which there was no 2nd round (Table 2).

Tabela 2: History of valid votes

Year1nd shift2nd shift

Source: Wikipedia (2022, 2018; 2014; 2010; 2006; 2002; 1998; 1994; 1989). Author's elaboration.

Voter turnout in 2022 was the highest since the 2006 election. This is due to three factors: (i) political polarization and the electorate's interest in participating in the election; (ii) an intense campaign by the candidates and the TSE for voters to vote; and (iii) the decision in the country's main capitals and cities to offer free transportation for the population to move around.

A primary explanation for the high turnout rate is the obligation to vote. However, this should not be the only explanation, as the fine for those who do not vote or justify their absence varies between R$ 1,05 and R$ 3,51, and can be paid by bank slip, card or Pix, which makes it much easier. for citizens to be up to date with their civic obligations.

The obligation to vote is much questioned in political and legal circles because it is considered that there is no full democracy without considering the right of those who do not want to vote.

This is a long-standing debate with many variables, as mandatory voting is part of the set of civic obligations and ratified by the 1988 Constitution. The main argument for making it mandatory is that, contrary to the argument that it is optional, it is this model that, in fact, strengthens democracy. Since the end of the military dictatorship, popular participation has been fundamental for sustaining the democratic regime.

For comparative purposes in relation to other western democratic countries where voting is optional, the difference in popular participation is very large. In the US, registration to vote occurs first, where 21% of the population able to vote did not register, and of those registered, only 66,7% attended the 2020 election in the election of Joe Biden for President of the Republic (CONJUR, 2020) . In the 2022 election in France, whose winner for prime minister was Emmanuel Macron, only 63,23% of popular turnout (PODER 360, 2022). And in Italy, in a recent election for prime minister, 63,91% of the electorate turned out, electing the ultra-right Giorgia Meloni (R7, 2022).

Brazil had the lowest rate of participation in ballot boxes with 78,5% in the 2nd round of the 2010 election, even so with a significantly higher number than that achieved by the Europeans and the USA. Therefore, Brazilian popular participation is significant, with breadth and respect for established rules.

The elections in Brazil

Democracy in Brazil went through a period of important testing that began in 2016, when President Dilma Rousseff (PT) was impeached, accused of a crime of fiscal responsibility. With a fragile legal argument, which justified the strong political action at that moment of descent and isolation from the left and the rise of new political groups, it would culminate in the election of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in 2018.

Jair Bolsonaro's victory was a combination of factors, starting with the representation of a portion of society that believes in authoritarianism as a system, defenders of the military dictatorship and the most reprehensible measures of that system, added to another conservative portion that manifests its positions mainly in the customs, feelings that consolidated in the anti-PT and anti-Lula banners.

Jair Bolsonaro embodied the anti-system thesis, sought to deconstruct existing institutions, aimed at confronting the STF and the National Congress. His followers, via social networks and public demonstrations, attack the institutions in a virulent and recurrent way.

In Brazil in 2022, after most of Jair Bolsonaro's term has passed, a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Brazilians, caused great misfortune for our families, economic depression and lack of direction for national development, we live the most polarized presidential experience since redemocratization.

Conductor Tom Jobim already said “Brazil is not for beginners”, and after being execrated by the traditional media, accused, tried and convicted, the labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had his conviction reversed and his judgment annulled by the STF . He can run again and won the elections by a margin of 1,9% of the difference of votes against the entire state power machine alongside his opponent Jair Bolsonaro.

Brief completion

Brazilian democracy has shown maturity despite the increase in the portion of the population that claims institutional rupture and an authoritarian alternative.

Public institutions worked, particularly there was due independence between the powers, with broad functioning and compliance with the laws, even when a part of the existing political forces threatened not to respect the imposed decisions.

There is broad political participation, free manifestation and opinion, but the confrontation with versions considered false, currently known as fake news. This confrontation led media groups to consider themselves censored. However, with the clarity of the decisions handed down in the judicial instances, it is not possible to enact a decision other than that of confronting the untrue versions. There are those who defend the right to lie. And there are also those who consider as legitimate the demonstrations that demand military intervention, the arrest of public authorities and the non-recognition of the electoral result. However, it seems to be a minority group of people who dedicate themselves to such guidelines.

The average Brazilian, worker, responsible for the well-being of his or her family, wants a better life, a better income and consumption condition, wants to lead a life capable of sustaining himself and his family, with some opportunity for social growth or at least prospect of a better future. This is the most important challenge for public authorities in relation to the Brazilian people.

Which social and political system can offer the best conditions for this Brazilian to develop? Under what conditions will there be sufficient stability to attract investment and the ability to turn the economy towards a virtuous growth path? Does authoritarianism have the ability, through state violence and other mechanisms, to prevent dissatisfactions and generate a greater concentration of wealth without any complaints? Or will democracy, the most sensible and imperfect political organization, be able to offer the best conditions for economic and social development?

As the playwright and poet Bertold Brecht would say: “so many stories, so many questions”.

The future of democracy in Brazil depends on a political distension, as far as possible, ending the polarization given in the 2022 elections. There is an urgent need to win over part of the electorate critical of the current democratic system and isolate the radicals who defend the authoritarian regime.

Jair Bolsonaro's victory in 2018 raised an ultraconservative vision of society and his defeat in 2022 does not end a phase in Brazil's history of coexistence with a consolidated base that claims institutional rupture.

How to win the part of the electorate sympathetic to authoritarian flags? The economy will be the most important instrument from the moment that a portion of the electorate considers and recognizes the achievement of real gains in their lives.

Defeating authoritarian ideology in Brazil and reinvigorating our democratic system will be the most important challenge for the President of the Republic elected in this year's ballot.

*Rodrigo Carvalho he holds a doctorate in political science from PUC-SP. Author, among other books by The Lula government and the printed media – The construction of a hegemonic thought (New Academic Editions).

Originally published in the magazine Electoral Justice in Debate – TUESDAY-RJ/FEB. 2023).


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