Authoritarian risk anointed by Parliament

Clara Figueiredo, Brasilia series fungi and simulacra, esplanade, 2018


It is naive to think that there would be an embarrassment for Bolsonaro to resume an anti-institutional position after falling into the arms of the Centrão and the multi-party system

The political events of recent years have provided a large volume of reflections on the solidity of Brazilian democracy and its vulnerability to capture by populist political agents, based on the reenergization of an international conservative movement, closely linked to extreme right-wing ideologies.

If consolidated cases, such as Hungary and Poland, are challenges for the European Union, which also deals with similar internal tension agents in France, Italy, Germany and Austria, it is possible to see danger in Brazil's democratic horizon, from the occupation of power of a reactionary and far-right government? If the United States, a stable democracy for about 230 years, was the scene of the shameful invasion of Congress by armed criminals, dressed in fur and horn vests, in defense of the imposition of a defeated candidate at the polls, what is the risk of instability in a country with 30 years of democracy and a history of coups?

This question so 2018! gains new vitality from recent political facts, namely, the elections for the Presidency of the Chamber and the Senate. The victories of federal deputy Arthur Lira (PP-AL) and senator Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM-MG) put, in principle, the legislative agenda for the next two years under the control of the Executive. The double of the politicians supported by Bolsonaro was celebrated as a second inauguration of the President, as reported by Fábio Zanini: “If at first the focus is on the reform agenda advocated by Minister Paulo Guedes (Economy), right behind comes the defense of measures that concern values ​​and customs, the so-called 'ideological agenda'.”[I]. The text seeks to reflect on this risk, motivated by the evaluation, in a recent interview[ii], by political scientist Carlos Pereira, professor at FGV EBAPE and columnist for Estadão, which echoes a widely current reading that there is an institutional normality in force.

When asked whether he is optimistic or pessimistic in relation to the survival of Brazilian democracy, Pereira justifies his confidence that better days will come by alluding, in a concise manner, to three major pillars of liberal democracy: for him, Brazil holds free, fair and democratic elections competitive; there is protection of civil, political and social rights (despite recognizing that there is hostile rhetoric to the contrary); and, the mosaic of institutions that limit those who exceed their attributions acts regularly, that is, the system of checksand balances it is maintained. Pereira concludes with what he calls return cost: “The longer Bolsonaro follows coalition presidentialism, even a minority one, the less chance of him returning to a less institutional path.”.

At the outset, even if it is obvious, it is clear that what makes a democracy representative liberal is not the existence of one of the three pillars, but all of them concomitantly in their fullness. Therefore, let's see if, based on a superficial effort, it is possible to ensure that the Brazilian model is solid enough not to arouse fears due to its fragility.

The Brazilian electoral system is recognized and praised worldwide for its security and efficiency. Since redemocratization, elections have been held periodically and the right to vote was extended to illiterates in 1985. However, it is not possible to state that, since then, elections have taken place in a fair, competitive and free manner. With each election, Rio de Janeiro prohibits the entry of some candidates into areas dominated, either by drug trafficking or by the militia, in addition to withdrawing publicity material, to the benefit of candidacies linked to local criminals. Likewise, campaign acts in these regions need the “authorization” of “resident associations”. Rio is a symbol of the phenomenon, but the same occurs in areas dominated by factions in the North and Northeast or, with different colors, in cities controlled by landlords in the Center-West and South. Research by the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship (CESeC-UCAM) showed that 82 militants and candidates were killed in 2020[iii]. How to talk about competitive elections when a candidate can invest BRL 54 million out of his own pocket in his campaign, as Henrique Meirelles did in 2018? At the pole of need, PSOL candidates accused the caption of lack of transparency in the division of resources. How does a black woman compete equally with white men seeking re-election when the party allocates her about a tenth of the amount it allocates to them?[iv]

In the second aspect, it is difficult to deny that, in Brazil, there is a population with access to rights and another to whom such rights are denied. Systematic abuses by the State are committed against social groups without access to education, health, political awareness or rights. Pereira believes that aggression against minorities or rights anchored in laws does not go beyond rhetoric, without effective government action in this regard. This proposition is false. First, because word is action. The systematic reinforcement of messages against the press, against the opposition, against minorities empowers and legitimizes the practice of attacks by those who share the same ideas. The year 2020 saw a record number of attacks on freedom of the press (428 cases), with President Jair Bolsonaro responsible for 145 of them[v]. According to which, in addition to the rhetoric, the practical commitment took place: Anti-crime package (exclusion and illegality and imprisonment in second instance), extinction of participatory councils (public policies without civil participation), Social Security reform, reduction of labor rights, reduction of wages during the pandemic etc. Perhaps, among so many examples of violation of the rights of Brazilians, the pandemic is the stark example. The deliberate inertia of the federal government in omitting its responsibility in dealing with the pandemic is no worse than its conscious action in boycotting the only possible containment measures for the coronavirus. Dignity was denied to Brazilians, which is imposed before any right. The growing balance of 230 deaths does not seem to be enough proof that the checksand balances get into action.

Third, the mosaic of independent and oversight institutions cracks at first glance. The toxicity of the relationship between the Public Ministry and Bolsonarism, united by anti-PTism, was latent, it was crowned with Sérgio Moro in the Ministry of Justice and, later, wide open by Vaza Jato. Once the government started, the rigging and co-option of institutions were common practices: intervention in the tenure of university presidents, names linked to the family in key positions, use of the state machine against political opponents and critics, interference in investigative bodies, incorporation of thousands of military personnel into civilian posts, weakening of environmental monitoring structures. Occasional allies to demonize Mais Médicos, the Federal Council of Medicine became an accomplice of “early treatment”, rendering a criminal disservice. The injection of advertising funds into Radio and TV channels guarantees coverage that defends the government, without a critical spirit. Entrepreneurs support the sabotage of restrictive measures during the pandemic in search of maintaining their businesses at any cost. An announced ministerial reform and the release of BRL 3 billion in parliamentary amendments for the approval of its candidates for the Presidency of the Chamber and the Senate revealed the effort made to capture the independence and autonomy of another Power. The alliance with Centrão, previously seen as the scum of politics, is the security that Bolsonaro seeks to stop impeachment proceedings and protect his children, but also to resume proposals that are deeply rooted in the voter base. Therefore, the second half of the game is more dangerous.

The risk lies with a reinvigorated Bolsonaro, stronger than at the beginning of his term, as Luis Felipe Miguel said.[vi]. Control of the two Houses is seen as a second possession, opening opportunities to rescue reactionary ideological projects and harmful economic agendas. Authoritarian leaders advance with anti-democratic agendas after the anointing of re-election, as shown by Levitsky and Ziblatt[vii]. Bolsonaro is anointed by the election of Lira and Pacheco and his hordes believe they can do more than they already do. And what they did was not little. The free sample of what could come is the indication of federal deputy Bia Kicis (PSL-DF), root bolsonarista, for the command of the Commission of Constitution and Justice, fundamental for the analysis of the processes of revocation of mandate and of impeachment, for example. Kicis is against social isolation and the use of masks, voted against Fundeb and is investigated in the inquiry of fake news, suspected of using the parliamentary quota to spread messages in favor of anti-democratic acts.

Therefore, it is naive to think that there would be an embarrassment for Bolsonaro to resume an anti-institutional position after falling into the arms of the Centrão and the multi-party system.[viii]. It's the same cynical hope that the military would contain him on the Planalto. We can't forget that the President swam with his arm for 30 years in the broth of the lower clergy, whose permanent political commitment is with particular interests. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that he will adopt a new political logic, after decades of acting in his own cause, when not even a stab wound and tens of thousands of dead Brazilians make him recover the value of life.

*Iury Tavares Master in Political Science and International Relations from Universidade Nova de Lisboa.






[v] Reports on Violence against Journalists and Freedom of the Press in Brazil 2020.


[vii]Levitsky, S., & Ziblatt, D. (2018). how democracies die. Publisher Schwarcz-Companhia das Letras.


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