Opinion: Casting doubt on Brazilian elections, Bolsonaro follows Trump

Editor’s Note: Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat), a regular contributor to CNN Opinion, a professor of Italian history and studies at New York University and the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini so far. “She publishes Newsletter Lucid about threats to democracy. The views expressed here are her own. Read more comments on CNN.


“A new class of thieves has emerged who want to steal our freedom,” famously thundered Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a speech June last year. The despised leader, who has performed badly in recent polls ahead of Sunday’s election, has gone on to claim that “if necessary, we will go to war” against violators. offense.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

With whom are these thieves that Bolsonaro vowed to wage war on? Is he talking about the old and petty criminals he vowed to destroy when he came to power in January 2019 on an anti-corruption platform?

No, like many other authoritarian politicians at risk of being removed from office, the President of Brazil is focusing on unfounded electoral “crimes” – and casting doubt on the integrity of the electoral system, to be able to make fraudulent statements at the ballot box in case of loss.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Bolsonaro – who, like his counterpart, former US president Donald Trump, has Pick political guide from the famous right-wing ideology Steve Bannon — seeking to make Trump’s “Big Lie” strategy his own, as he confronts prominent former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the progressive Workers’ Party candidate on Sunday.

Follow Lula, as his opponents are known, with 13% in the polls, largely due to the results of his incompetent performance as president and allegations of corruption in the government. government and his family, Bolsonaro seemed forced to seek an anti-democratic electoral solution to hold up power.

Brazilians have good reason to be disappointed with the way Bolsonaro has run for the past four years.

After handling the Covid-19 pandemic negligently, he accused by a committee of the Brazilian Senate on “crimes against humanity.” His spoil of Brazil’s precious Amazonian rainforests makes him even more deeply unpopular.

Through it, his stock reaction has prompted Trump to display Trump-like expressions of political violence if elections don’t go his way. He even went so far as to declare that he would never give up the presidency while he was alive.

But the Brazilians, who know only too well what it means to lose their democratic rights, do not seem to be swayed by his threats. Brazil has endured more than 20 years of military dictatorship, (1964 – 1986) – a brutal, violent regime that Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has repeatedly praised.

That harrowing experience with dictatorship explained extraordinary effort by civil organizations and opposition groups to ensure that the electoral system, in Brazil, overseen by federal electoral courts headed by the Supreme Electoral Court, functions properly on vote.

Another important goal of those who will defend Brazil’s democracy is to reassure voters that the election results will be fair. Since few strongmen today can escape an outright ban on elections, the challenge is to deceive the electoral system and destroy its credibility in the eyes of voters.

Congress rejected Bolsonaro’s mandate for a return to paper ballots (Brazil’s electronic voting machines have repeatedly been judged to be free of fraud). Meanwhile, election officials working with citizen groups and technology experts have created a “transparency committee” to spread best practices.

Business leaders and other influencers have made public statements about the confidentiality of elections. No longer a hotbed of electoral fraud, all of this makes Brazil a case study of efforts to combat the dictatorship of the 21st century.

But there’s one wild card: Brazil’s army.

Bolsonaro has given the armed forces more power than at any time since the dictatorship, personnel its government with a large number of military officials and appoint a reserve general head of Brazil’s state-owned energy conglomerate, Petrobras. To payback, and perhaps to advance its own anti-democratic agenda, the military often Supported Bolsonaro’s claims about Brazil’s ambiguous electoral system.

Who can forget the intrigues of Trump loyalists after the 2020 election, with allies and allies of the then President conspiracy seized voting machines and retired General Michael Flynn suggestions that the US military could declare martial law and “re-conduct” the election? Imagine the skepticism, if not outright fear, of potential military election interference in a country like Brazil, where generals have destroyed democracy in the past.

And yet, for Sunday’s presidential election vote, Brazil’s armed forces will participate in election security, performing “spot checks” of hundreds of polling stations on election night. election of voting machines and compare the results with data sent to the Supreme Electoral Court. Let’s hope that’s their level of participation in the election.

Military coups and anti-democratic actions, including in Brazil, have always been seen as “saving the country” from tyranny and corruption. We can all hope that the Brazilian people will reject a president who has stood by the darkest and most violent times of the past.


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