Lula Vs Bolsonaro: Will this be the last Brazilian election?

Given Bolsanaro’s closeness to the military and the massive showing at his rallies, the future is worrying.

On 2 October, the Brazilian elections were held. Polls predict that Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, representing the Brazil of Hope alliance will emerge as the new President, beating out incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. The election is important for the entire world.

In an era where climate change has become a critical issue, Brazil, as home to the Amazon rainforests will play a critical role in protecting the world from the effects of climate change. A victory by Lula would be the latest in the third Pink Wave victories. Brazil’s swing to the left would be a major victory for progressive politics in Latin America. The election would also be a swing away from the pro-military politics of Bolsonaro, which is critical in maintaining democracy in Brazil. The election will be held in two rounds. If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, there will be a second round run-off election to determine the winner. Most predictions show a win for Lula.

Bolsonaro tells supporters to resist election results

The election has become even more complicated when on 7 September 2022, Bolsonaro alarmed the world with two inflammatory speeches. He told his followers to take to the streets and protest if he is not voted back to power in the next election. These speeches were made in Brasilia (the nation’s capital) and Sao Paulo (the largest city in Brazil). In these speeches, Bolsonaro began spreading conspiracy theories saying that the elections are being fixed against him. He claimed that the Electronic Voting Machines were rigged against him. He would be ready to use the military to protect his position. He threatened Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux and said that he does not respect judgements by the Supreme Court. He also said that only God could remove him from office, and he would only leave office dead or arrested, but he will never be arrested. Each demonstration was attended by 1-2 lakh people, and many smaller cities in Brazil also saw demonstrations by Bolsonaro supporters.

Bolsonaro Protests
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. Source: REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Democracy or Military

Brazil has been under military rule since 1964 after an American-sponsored coup d’état. The military regime was brutal. The army relied on torture to suppress political dissidents. They received training from the American and British governments and used their training to root out communist elements in Brazil.

Even after the transition to democracy, the Brazilian Armed Forces remain a powerful force in the government. The Brazilian military still controls many leadership positions within the state. Many of the reforms after the transition left the police and the armed forces untouched. Brazil has the second largest Army in the Americas, only after the United States. Like the United States, the military has strong economic ties with the police. To justify their presence, starting from the 1980s, Brazil’s armed forces, and later police, changed focus from cracking down on communists, to cracking down on drug gangs. Since the return to democracy, Brazilian police have begun to use military-level equipment and receive military training.

Among former colonies, most militaries were formed to control the local population, not to protect the country from enemies. In some cases, the military occupies a small section of the country and remains an occupying force. In some cases, the military is part of the state. In some cases, the military stands waiting to take over the government in times of instability. When achieving independence, many independence leaders have tried different strategies to manage the volatility a strong military can pose. Sometimes they have been successful in establishing control by a civilian government, but not always.

If the military is a threat to democracy, then who supports the Military?

Support from the military comes from two directions. First, internationally, colonizing powers find militaries easier to negotiate with than civilian governments. Within a country, military regimes get support from the rich and middle classes. Military governments, and promilitary politicians like Bolsonaro, are usually pro-corporate and get a lot of support from corporate-owned media. The propaganda from corporate-owned media can swing support from the masses in times of elections. Even if the population is aware of the dangers of such right-wing leaders, media messaging makes certain types of debates and nuances impossible. Subtle differences of opinion in the population can be manipulated to make progressive candidates appear monstrous. Repeated messages can be used to excite fears. For those who support left-wing politicians, such messages can lose confidence. For those who support right-wing politicians, such messages can give confidence.

The Brazilian Army Command presents the military contingent that will work on the security of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brasilia on June 13, 2013. The security forces will be formed personnel from the Army and the Paramilitary Police. AFP PHOTO/Beto BARATA. (Photo credit should read BETO BARATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bolsonaro also has strong support from the Brazilian middle class. Many see him as a source of stability. Despite his horrific mishandling of the COVID19 Pandemic, political and economic scandals before the Pandemic, and his clear mishandling of the economy, his macho and aggressive style appeals to a group of people who do not want to make compromises on their social position. Even if they are a technical minority, Bolsanro has managed to get lakhs of people to come to his rallies, and millions to support him. Though he is behind Lula in the polls, he is still expected to have gotten 30-40% of the vote. Bolsonaro has strong support among religious voters, who see him as a conservative force. As a pro-military candidate, Bolsanaro is seen as hard on drug use and a symbol of traditional values. Playing into the frustrations of the middle class, Bolsanaro has also promoted many conspiracy theories to explain discrepancies in his policies and behaviour, making him impossible to pin down.

A Tense Future

Across the world, when the ultra-right wing party comes to power through elections, progressives ask if that would spell the end of democracy. Given Bolsanaro’s closeness to the military and the massive showing at his rallies, the future is worrying.

Author is a mathematician and political observer based in Bangalore. 

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May 2024
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