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Elections in Brazil: a global contest that has put democracy at stake test


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The Conversation

Carmen Beatriz Fernández

professor of Political Communication

On Saturday night a large illuminated sign supported Lula in the heart of New York. On plenary session of the Executive Council Chrysler Building was projected in giant "the world needs Lula". There, in the financial epicenter of the capitalist world, precisely, it was certified that this was not a contest like any other.

Donald Trump had already suggested it when he entered the dynamics of the second round by vehemently supporting Bolsonaro's option. Likewise, leaders such as Pedro Sanchez and Petro tried to influence the race, expressing their preference for Lula. Even the mayor of Barcelona, whose Degree influence in the Brazilian election is more than doubtful, expressed her support for Lula's candidacy.

It is always seductive for a politician to try to influence in the contests, but in the concert of nations, the ideal thing for a president is not to set an opinion before them and to congratulate result afterwards, whatever it may be.

Perhaps surreptitiously, Russia's war against Ukraine was also involved in the global character of this contest, as Bolsonaro has expressed his sympathies for Putin. Even so, taking an early position in such a tight contest is a bold gesture that calls into question bilateral relations and an absurd risk for a head of state to take.

Joe Biden and Macron acted more prudently, sending institutional congratulations to the president-elect, even though Lula had probably always been their favorite. It is nothing new to aspire to be an extra-territorial "great elector".

It was Lula, precisely, the pioneer of this style when he signed support spots for Michelle Bachelet in Chile in 2012,for Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela in 2013, Ollanta Humala in Peru in 2011 and for Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Nearly two million difference

We should not be misled by the 1.8% difference, since it implied almost two million separations between the candidates. Brazil is, after India and the United States, one of the largest democracies in the world. Everything happens in giants in Brazil. Its electoral process acquires continental dimensions: the city of São Paulo alone, with 27 million voters, has a higher GDP than almost any other Latin American country. Its mayor, Ricardo Nunes, supported Bolsonaro in the race, perhaps knowing the preferences of the people of São Paulo (55% to 45% against Lula).

Each campaign command hires dozens of polls and hundreds of focus groups to measure their campaigns. More than 118 million votes were counted by the electoral arbiter in just three hours and with a count completely open to public view. With that minimal difference of 1.8 points, and with null and blank votes tripling that figure, the referee announced the winner immediately after the count.

The polls anticipated a photo finish. Although they all predicted Lula's victory, they had underestimated Bolsonaro's vote during the first round and there was room for doubt. Also in the ballotage, the polls underestimated Bolsonaro, who was about 4 to 6 points behind Lula, depending on the pollster.

The "hidden vote" of Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro maintains an important "hidden vote" that is not being expressed in the polls and that can be explained theoretically from the veil of the spiral of silence, according to which a small part of the population keeps silent about their true preferences when they fear being in the minority or when the counterpart is more vociferous.

The campaign was ugly and artful. Both accused each other of being liars and manufacturers of fake news. Lula positioned Bolsonaro as anti-democratic, populist and misogynist. Bolsonaro categorized Lula as a corruption kingpin. The tragedy of this Brazilian election is that, at least in that particular, both were telling the truth.

During the last discussion, hours before the election and as an example of the low level of the discussion, Lula emphasized a quantitatively insignificant issue: why the army had acquired boxes of Viagra. Bolsonaro settled the matter by asking Lula if he used the little blue pill. American guitarist Tom Morello, famous for his radical left-wing activism, in a tweet on the eve of the election called half of Brazil's population fascist and Lula retweeted the nonsense.

Bad electoral climate and distorted information

The political climate in Brazil for the second round had been even worse than for the first round. Ideological polarization, but also affective polarization, were used as a means of differentiation and attention-grabbing, fostering radicalization and rivalry between the sides to unacceptable levels. In affective polarization, the "no" vote can play a much more important role than the "yes" vote.

Information was distorted in both local and international media, blatant lies circulated freely through social networks, distrust was put to the maximum, tension was whipped up and pushed to the limit. This is how things were in electoral Brazil.

In some perverse way Bolsonaro's anti-democratic populism and Lula's corruption may have given each other the kiss of death. There is a relationship between support for populist politicians who habitually in their rhetoric criticize corrupt elites and the objectively assessed level of corruption in that society.

The greater the awareness of corruption, the more people will agree agreement that a strong leader is needed who does not have to worry about parliament or elections. The Odebrecht Lava-Jato scandal was not just any corruption case. Brazil is a country that shares borders with almost the entire region. Ten Latin American countries border it and the corrupt tentacles have reached most of them. The construction company created an electoral outsourcing unit that exploited the weaknesses of the Latin American party system to become a provider of political communication services.

Odebrecht's operations related to political corruption can be divided into three types:

  • first, direct corruption in construction and government contracts;

  • second, donations to political parties and campaign candidates;

  • finally, what turned out to be a new outline: the development of a complete political marketing department involved in regional campaigns, providing expertise in political communication, as well as in the presidential campaign of the Workers' Party and other affiliated parties, through which Lula helped his friends in the São Paulo Forum.

speech moderate Lula's

The campaign may have been very rough, but the time for harmony has come. Being in government is another thing. Lula offered a moderate and conciliatory speech after the victory was known. The 58 million voters who voted for Bolsonaro are not fascists, and Lula knows it. He is obliged to be moderate in order to govern and avoid polarization. He has a Parliament against him in which he is forced to make alliances with center parties.

Brazilian democracy is strengthened by overcoming a complicated election, but as a democrat Lula from the government will have to define his level of tolerance towards the dictatorships of Maduro and Ortega and clearly differentiate his left democratic government from the left autocracies.

Bolsonaro's party, for its part, maintains an important parliamentary fraction. Bolsonaro's performance in the coming hours will tell whether or not he can become the main leader of the Brazilian civil service examination .

The exercise of power is always a competitive advantage in the region. Controlling the Economics and institutions, as Bolsonaro did in his campaign and as any Latin American president aspiring for reelection has done, makes Latin American elections unbalanced.

Bolsonaro is the first incumbent president to lose reelection in Brazil. However, the triumph of alternation in the most recent electoral processes in the sub-region is a general trend and a positive sign for Latin American democracy. Rather than turning to the left, the democracies of the region are betting on change. In Brazil, democracy was put to test with the same threats that threaten global democracy: polarization, populism, disinformation and corruption. However, and even when pushed to the limit, Brazilian democracy passed the challenge.