Is democracy in danger in Brazil?

The Brazilian elections on October 2 will be the third presidential elections of 2022, after the electoral processes in Costa Rica (February 6 and April 3) and Colombia (May 29 and June 19), elections that close the electoral agenda this year within the framework of the 2021-2024 supercycle.

The contest presents a high level of polarization between the undisputed icon of the Brazilian left, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, versus the leader of the extreme right and current president, Jair Bolsonaro, who adds scandals and is committed to the distribution of new subsidies to leverage his re-election.

What do the polls say?

Some 150 million voters will go to the polls on October 2, and the country is already immersed in an early and tense campaign, in which Lula has a clear advantage in the polls, of 14 points (45 to 31% ) according to the consolidated polls of the newspaper Or State of São Paulo.

The scenarios of an eventual ballot, at the end of October, further expand the advantage of the former president over the current president. Also, five of the ten polls released in the last fifteen days agreed that Lula could even prevail in the first round with just over 50%, which has triggered all the alarms in the campaign of the far-right leader.

It is true that in some recent polls, compared to those of June, Bolsonaro closed the gap by a couple of points, but still within the statistical margins of error, which is not enough, for now, to speak of a trend.

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The possibility of third party candidates —such as the Labor Party member Ciro Gomes, with 8%, or the Conservative Simone Tebet, below 3%— of breaking the polarization is nil.

Adverse environment for re-election

With 12% inflation, 10% unemployment, 33 million people going hungry, and a pandemic that has not been overcome and that has already killed more than 670,000 Brazilians to date, the situation in the country constitutes a serious obstacle for the current president to win re-election.

Bolsonaro’s management also accumulates serious complaints of corruption in the Ministry of Education and the recent resignation —after accusations of sexual harassment made by officials of the entity itself— of the president of a state bank very close to the president.

The president responds to these scandals with a two-pronged strategy: on the one hand, with silence and, on the other, by having the country declared a “state of emergency”, a measure that was endorsed by a large majority in the Senate and the House. of Deputies last week, which paved the way for the distribution of new subsidies estimated at $7.6 billion starting in August, that is, just two months before the elections.

The “state of emergency”, which legislators justified by the impact of the war in Ukraine, allows the government to launch a massive subsidy package for the poorest and also for certain “key” groups, such as truck and taxi drivers (affected by the increase in fuel prices).

This controversial measure was the mechanism found by the pro-government majority in Congress to circumvent the electoral legislation that prevents measures of this nature during the six months prior to an election.

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Additionally, political violence was present in the campaign. The tragic event that mobilized the attention of the media and public opinion was the murder, in the border city of Foz do Iguazú, on July 9, of a local leader of the Workers’ Party (Lula’s party) by a Bolsonaro militant. .

Attacks on democracy and electoral authorities

President Bolsonaro has made his threats against the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and its members his campaign banner, denouncing for two years and without evidence a possible fraud that says “will not tolerate”.

On Monday, July 18, he summoned 40 foreign diplomats to his residence, to whom he denounced the lack of security in the voting system and lack of confidence in the electoral process. Within a few hours, the TSE sent a response to the same diplomatic corps and to the media, denying each of the president’s unfounded statements.

The permanent attack on the electoral process, on the electronic ballot box (in use for more than two decades) and on the TSE represents a serious threat to Brazilian democracy, which has been experiencing a serious, gradual and permanent deterioration, especially since the arrival of Bolsonaro to the presidency.

If you bear in mind his closeness to former United States President Donald Trump, his manipulated use of social networks, the strong presence of the military in his government and the loss of political neutrality of a sector of the uniformed men, including the current minister of Defense, the vigilance of democracy and the integrity of the electoral process will require the maximum national and international effort.

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This new attack without evidence on the electoral system by Bolsonaro generated widespread rejection in many sectors, both inside and outside Brazil. The embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Italy, among others, issued official statements expressing their confidence in democracy and in the Brazilian electronic vote.

For their part, the presidents of the Senate, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Superior Electoral Court, as well as the main media and more than 60 entities of Brazilian civil society also spoke in the same vein throughout the week.

In short: Brazil is on the way to a key election not only for the country but for the region. Allegations of irregularities and anticipated fraud are totally unfounded. The electronic ballot box is a secure, reliable and auditable voting mechanism.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal is an impartial and highly competent body, with the capacity and willingness to guarantee an electoral process with the highest standards of integrity.

Brazilian democracy is going through its most critical moment since the return to democracy in the 1980s. A serious deterioration or democratic setback in the South American giant would be extremely serious not only for Brazil, but also for the rest of Latin America.

For all these reasons, we must not underestimate this dangerous threat or leave the TSE alone against Bolsonaro’s false and recurrent attacks. Much, much is at stake in these elections.

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