Jair Bolsonaro lost in Brazil, but his threat to democracy remains

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THE CONVERSATION

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Authors: Gerson Scheidweiler, postdoctoral researcher in equity studies, York University, Canada and Tyler Valiquette, doctoral student, human geography, UCL

The days leading up to the recent Brazilian elections were tense, violent and desperate.

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A few days before the second round of the vote on October 30, 2022, Carla Zambelli, congresswoman and outspoken supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, confronted in the streets of São Paulo with a black activist. It ended with her pulling out a gun and chasing him through the streets.

On Election Day, there were reports of a pro-Bolsonaro voter suppression campaign by the Federal Highway Police, causing intentional traffic delays in the northeast of the country. It was evident that the country was more polarized than ever and onlookers feared a Brazilian insurrection.

In the end, however, Brazil elected leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva instead of incumbent right-wing firebrand Bolsonaro by extremely slim margins, 50.9% to 49.1%.

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Bolsonaro’s surprising numbers

The election results highlighted a strong nostalgia for the man commonly known as Lula, who governed during a period of economic and social prosperity for Brazil. The country’s northeast region, the poorest in Brazil, voted for Lula in overwhelming numbers.

However, Bolsonaro had significant numbers in almost every other state. Its success surprised many, given its terrible response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its abysmal track record in the Amazon, and a struggling economy.

Despite this, 49% of Brazilians still voted for him, suggesting a broader conservatism growing in Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s movement is still strong and will remain so for years to come. And Lula is likely to struggle to win over Brazil’s middle class as he tries to expand his support.

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Immediately after the results, world leaders rushed to congratulate Lula on his victory. US President Joe Biden, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Justin Trudeau posted tweets congratulating him.

Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court also upheld the election results, and diplomats encouraged world leaders to recognize the results.

Millions of Brazilians also took to the streets to celebrate Lula’s victory and the hope it represented for the Amazon, LGBTQI+ people and indigenous peoples. Lula echoed that hope in his first speech as president.

These actions were coordinated to deter Bolsonaro and his supporters from attempting a violent insurrection.

No military intervention

However, after Lula’s speech, Bolsonaro remained silent. The Supreme Court and even Bolsonaro supporters have started asking him to recognize the election results.

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After two days, he finally spoke. He did not formally give in but said he would adhere to the Brazilian constitution and the peaceful transition of power.

Following that speech, Bolsonaro supporters coordinated hundreds of roadblocks across the country, hoping for military intervention to keep Bolsonaro in power. These ongoing protests are significant and represent a mobilized conservative movement in the country that will organize against Lula.

The new Brazilian president faces significant challenges. He will have to unite a politically, socially and economically shaken country. He will also have to work with a newly elected conservative congress that is further to the right than it was under Bolsonaro’s presidency.

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During Lula’s first 100 days, he aims to make access to guns more difficult and to combat increasing levels of deforestation. Those pledges will pit him against Bolsonaro voters who support existing policies.

Restore the global image of Brazil

Additionally, Lula will have to approve a new budget that Bolsonaro gutted of benefits during a time of inflation and stagnation in the Brazilian economy.

He will also have to show the world that Brazil is a strong democracy with a vibrant economy to repair its global image and attract foreign investment. Ultimately, he will have to do so under extreme scrutiny, given the corruption charges against him.

Bolsonaro and the growing conservative movement in Brazil will seek every opportunity to disrupt his presidency and question his ability to govern.

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Polarization

While Brazil may have avoided its own Jan. 6 insurrection, the country emerges from the vote more polarized than ever.

The election of a leftist leader in Brazil will no doubt fuel support for similar parties and leaders across Latin America. But it is important to note that despite the success of democracy in Brazil, growing forces are mobilizing against it across the Americas.

A clear example is the polarized midterm elections in the United States which allowed some candidates who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election to win high-profile races, as well as the so-called convoy movement of freedom in Canada.

Democracy remains under threat from the rise of authoritarian figures like Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, whose legacy lives on.

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Polarization and the threat of authoritarianism will continue to plague Brazil and democracies around the world for years to come.

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The authors do not work for, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article: https://theconversation.com/jair-bolsonaro-lost-in-brazil-but-his-th https://theconversation.com/jair

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