Global Threats to Democracy Today
A look at the recent events in Brazil
February 17, 2023
A little over 2 years ago, the congressional certification of the results of the 2020 election were disrupted by a far-right mob, whose intention was to re-instate Donald Trump as President of the United States. As shocking as the event was, it was seen by many as an isolated incident, rather than indicative of a broader pattern. However, this narrative is being increasingly called into question with the recent storming of the Brazilian congress. The events display dangerous similarities to what occurred in the United States, leading many to wonder whether democracy is truly secure globally.
The events in Brazil started with the 2022 election, where incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro was challenged by former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, generally known as Lula. Bolsonaro, widely considered a far-right candidate, had a history of making unfounded accusations of election fraud in Brazilian elections, even in the 2018 election which he won.
In the lead-up to the election, most polls showed Bolsonaro as losing by large margins to Lula. In response, Bolsonaro refused to declare he would accept the election results if he lost, and he further increased his allegations of voter fraud.
As expected, the election ended in a victory for Lula, albeit by a closer margin than shown in most polls. Despite his allegations of fraud, Bolsonaro remained largely silent on the results of the election and agreed to facilitate the presidential transition. However, he did not explicitly concede the election or acknowledge Lula’s victory in any manner.
Despite the somewhat measured response from Bolsonaro, his supporters–who believed Bolsanaro’s fraud claims–reacted with far more outrage. Bolsonaro supporters protested en masse, declaring that voting machines had been rigged. Some even went as far as to call for the restoration of Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985. Disinformation was greatly spread by Bolsonaro supporters via social media. Protests blockaded streets, disrupting traffic and causing fuel shortages. While Bolsonaro urged supporters to scale back the protests, he continued to legitimize their demands by repeatedly stating that the election was unfair.
The events display dangerous similarities to what occurred in the United States, leading many to wonder whether democracy is truly secure globally.”
Rather than dying down, tensions continued to increase within the country culminating on January 8, 2023. 7 days after Lula’s inauguration, Bolsonaro supporters stormed the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court, and Presidential Palace. Destruction was widespread with numerous buildings being vandalized, and artwork being ruined.
Security forces eventually managed to restore order, and rioters were arrested in large numbers all in a relatively short period of time. However, the political repercussions of the event proved to be substantial. World leaders, including President Biden, condemned the attack as an assault on democracy. The new president, Lula, condemned the protestors as fascists and vowed that they would be punished. The event has additionally prompted serious discussion about the state of democracy in Brazil and indeed across the world.
The similarities between the events in Brazil and those in the U.S. have been widely recognized. In both nations, the repeated allegations of voter fraud, and their unrestricted spread through social media clearly created widespread anger amongst certain sections of the voter base. The problems were further compounded by figures in high positions of power who refused to condemn such misinformation and even encouraged it at certain points. The resulting attack on the institutions of government, in both countries, has been seen as unprecedented, leading to further concern over why these events occurred within 2 years of each other.
Since the 2020 election, a new trend seems to have emerged within the United States, where losing candidates refuse to concede elections, which occurred multiple times throughout the midterms. Despite it not being the norm, the amount of times it has occurred has naturally created control. While this already presents massive danger within the United States, it no doubt has become more disconcerting should it have a spillover effect internationally.