Presidential Elections: Will Brazil Be Condemned to Repeat Its Authoritarian Past?

For 21 years Brazil has experienced a brutal military dictatorship which lasted from 1964-1985. Since Brazil’s reopening to a democratic system and with the advent of the 1988 Constitutional Charter, Brazil has struggled to consolidate the Rule of Law and the fight against corruption.

As Brazilians hit the ballot box this weekend, it is time to reflect upon the country’s current political environment. This weekend’s elections are different from the previous ones: this is the first time since the end of military rule that a far right candidate is one of the leading contenders and has a strong likelihood to become the next Brazilian president.

Brazil has been suffering from staggering recession and corruption scandals such as the Car Wash Operation and the Petrobras scandal, which made international headlines.

These mega corruption scandals lead to the impeachment of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff from the Worker’s Party (PT) and the imprisonment of former Brazilian president and Rousseff’s political predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), also from the Worker’s Party (PT).

Some argue that Lula’s imprisonment and his highly politicized trial was a political maneuver to keep him away from the presidential race, as his approval rate is still very high. Nevertheless, a decision from the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) ruled against his bid to run for president.

Lula’s frustrated presidential bid has embittered his supporters, which claim that his trial, arrest and impossibility to run the presidential race was a coup d’état and an assault to Brazil’s democracy.

Brazil is a society suffering from major socioeconomic divides, which have been aggravated over the years and with the current economic recession. Dilma’s impeachment process and Lula’s arrest have increased the antagonism between the right and left.

Today, Brazil is a highly divided society. And this presidential race is the most unpredictable and contentious election since the country’s reopening to democracy in the 1980’s, in the presidential battle between Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the Worker’s Party (PT) and Fernando Collor the Mello from the National Reconstruction Party (PRN).

Once again history repeats itself with polarizing platforms from the two leading candidates, left leaning candidate former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, from the Worker’s Party (PT) and a far right candidate congressman and former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, who is riding high in the polls.

Bolsonaro is a highly controversial individual who represents the repressive and authoritarian Brazilian political heritage. Depending on elections results, Brazil could be once again moving towards an increasingly authoritarian and repressive government, compromising democratic rights and freedoms.

Bolsonaro is seen by many as an unreconstructed apologist for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, having dedicated his vote in favor of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process in 2016 in memory of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a well-known perpetrator of atrocities and a notorious torturer of dissenters during the military regime.

Additionally, Bolsonaro stated unashamedly that Brazil’s military dictatorship should have been ‘tougher’ and should have killed far more dissenters than it actually did, suggesting that the military regime should had killed ‘at least 30,000 people instead of only several hundred’.

Brazil’s far right and increasingly popular presidential candidate upholds controversial views on individual rights and the rights of homosexuals and women.

Bolsonaro openly argued that parents should “beat homosexuality out of their children” from a young age. It is well known to the Brazilian and international press that in 2014 Bolsonaro openly stated that “he should rape” his female political opponent congresswoman Maria do Rosário from the Worker’s Party (PT).

In 9th December of the same year he stated in Congress that “he would not rape her… as she did not deserve it.” On the same day Bolsonaro uploaded on his official congress page a video entitled ‘Bolsonaro escova Maria do Rosario’ (Bolsonaro humping Maria do Rosario).

The video features his debate with Maria do Rosario during question time, together with pictures of a rally in support of the “golden years” of Brazil’s military dictatorship and in support of reinstating an authoritarian government in Brazil.

Additionally, Bolsonaro’s political platform calls for the widespread chemical castration of sexual offenders and supports the view that the protection of human rights enshrined in the 1988 Constitutional Charter has done a “disservice” to the wider Brazilian society, and to national security.

Bolsonaro also stated that he will not accept the presidential election’s results unless he wins his bid to become the next Brazilian president, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis.

The anxious political climate in Brazil gave rise to an online manifesto signed by approximately 150 Brazilian artists and intellectuals denouncing Bolsonaro’s authoritarian platform as a threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

Signatories include singers Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque de Holland and Gilberto Gil, who spent years in European political exile during Brazil’s military repression.

But fears Bolsonaro could bring Brazil back into a repressive and authoritarian government are not coming only from the intellectual Brazilian elite and former political exiles.

Many Brazilians are fearful that widespread violence on the streets and economic recession could lead voters to support a far-right hard line stance to deal with crime and corruption.

Additionally, the social media campaign women against Bolsonaro and the hashtags EleNao (NotHim) and EleNaoEleNunca (NotHimNeverHim) have the support of millions of Brazilians across the social divide.

And a popular social media anti-Bolsonaro samba has gone viral. The lyrics state: ‘(Under Bolsonaro) we’ll have bullets, revolvers and grenades on our plates instead of rice and beans (a popular Brazilian meal). Not him! Not him! Not him! For the love of God, not him! If this chap gets elected and sees this video, I am off to Japan. Not him! Not him. For the love of God not him!’

The pressing question now is: can Brazil move away from its authoritarian and repressive past? Sunday’s first round presidential elections might give us an answer.

Flavia Bellieni Zimmermann is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Western Australia, School of Social Science, Political Science and International Relations. Flavia is also associated with the University of Western Australia Centre for Muslim States and Societies. She is the Commissioning Editor for the Australian Institute of International Affairs blog The Australian Outlook, voted the top think tank in South Asia and the Pacific in the Global Go-To Think Tanks Index in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Flavia has wide interview experience and has published several opinion pieces in the field of international relations. She holds a Graduate Diploma of International Relations from Curtin University, and a Bachelor of Laws with first class honors from the Pontifical Catholic University from Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ), Brazil.


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