- Gerardo Lissard
- BBC News World
The presidential ballot in Brazil between Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro this Sunday is the most important election in the country since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, an eminent Brazilian political scientist and historian tells BBC Mundo.
In the largest country in Latin America, the “still fragile democratic system” is at stake, says Jose Murilo de Carvalhomember of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
Former President Lula, a 77-year-old leftist who obtained 48.4% of the vote in the first round of elections this month, comes to the ballot with an advantage of between four and eight points in different valid vote intention polls published this Saturday.
But the current president Bolsonaro, a 67-year-old far-right, obtained a higher vote in the first round than the polls anticipated (43.2%) and aspires to be re-elected against many forecasts.
The winner must exceed 50% of the valid votes this Sunday (not counting those blank and annulled) to start a new presidential term on January 1, 2023.
The result may vary due to factors such as the level of abstention or how undecided and volatile voters choose, which some surveys place around 5%.
The campaign was marked by strong political polarization, acts of violence and doubts about whether Bolsonaro, a former Army captain who sought to sow suspicion without evidence about the Brazilian electoral system, will accept eventual defeat.
“A circus show similar to the one that (Donald) Trump put on in the United States cannot be ruled out,” says Carvalho, alluding to the refusal of the then president of that country and an ally of Bolsonaro to accept his own defeat in the 2020 elections.
After his last debate with Lula on Friday night, Bolsonaro maintained that “there is not the slightest doubt” that he will respect the election result even if it is adverse: “Whoever has the most votes wins,” he declared.
What follows is a summary of the exchange via email with Carvalho, who is 83 years old and has received several awards and honorary doctorates throughout his career:
Please explain how you assess the historical importance of these elections in Brazil, which pit former President Lula against current President Bolsonaro…
The Brazilian Republic is 133 years old. The first election with significant popular participation was in 1945.
The second in 1950, when I was 11 years old, was contested by Getúlio Vargas, a former civilian dictator, and by an Air Force brigadier who helped depose him in 1945, representing the military, the elite and the middle class.
Getúlio, at that time compared to Perón, had adopted a strong labor program and won with the support of the workers. In 1954, in the face of strong opposition from the military and civilians, he was forced to resign and committed suicide.
The struggle against labor and nationalism, aggravated by the Cold War, led to the 1964 coup and military dictatorship (1964-1985).
Today we have something similar. A Labor representative (Lula) who is trying to return to power facing a president supported by the middle class, the military and businessmen.
The big difference today is the absence of the Cold War and the threat of US intervention, although external factors are not entirely absent.
Do you see this election as the most important in the country at least since the return of democracy?
It is undoubtedly the most important after the end of the dictatorship because our still fragile democratic system is at stake.
Do you see any risk of crisis or institutional breakdown in Brazil associated with the outcome of these elections?
The risk could only come in the event of a defeat for the president (Bolsonaro). A circus show similar to the one Trump put on in the United States cannot be ruled out.
My bet is that the Armed Forces will not support it and that external pressure will be strong in the US, the European Union and the main countries of Latin America.
To what extent do Bolsonaro and Lula represent two different ways of understanding Brazil?
The difference is big. Lula is like a new Vargas with a base of support among workers, the poor and intellectuals.
Bolsonaro is based on sectors of the middle class, Pentecostalism, large companies, agribusiness and the military of the Armed Forces and the police.
Part of the dispute also occurs in the field of values, especially in relation to the family and gender identity.
In the case of Bolsonaro, he arrives at this second round after a very tumultuous government, accused by his critics of authoritarian attitudes, of dividing the country, of responding in the wrong way to the coronavirus pandemic and, with this, aggravating during his government the critical situation that Brazil already had. Even so, have chances of winning a second government, according to opinion polls. How do you explain this support that the president has?
It’s a million dollar question. How can a president who is disrespectful of the law, who despises institutions, including the powers of the Republic, and democratic values, intolerant of advances in gender and racial equality, indifferent, if not hostile, to the protection of the environment environment, to give some examples, was elected and has the possibility of being re-elected?
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that there is also a great rejection of former President Lula.
The surveys show the great rejection of those interviewed towards both, between 47% (Bolsonaro) and 41% (Lula).
The country is divided down the middle and the chosen one, whoever he is, will have to face great opposition.
In the case of Lula, he seeks to become president again after the corruption scandals that arose during the governments of his Workers’ Party and a conviction for corruption annulled by the Supreme Court, without the former president having made a great self-criticism for the errors committed. What is the main reason why can come back to pPlanalto alacio?
Surely there has to be a personal side: proving that he is innocent and not going down in history as a convicted president.
There is also the arrogance of his party, the Workers’ Party, which never wanted to admit that there was corruption.
For the party, the former president is its only candidate who can win the election.
Brazil commemorated the bicentennial of its independence in September. Would you say that these elections suggest that Brazil still looking for which country you want to be?
There is not much to celebrate in this bicentennial.
On the political side, we were not able to build a democratic republic on solid foundations, as can be seen from what is happening today. We remain under the tutelage of the Armed Forces, which are considered guardians of the Republic.
On the social side, we are the eighth most unequal country in the world and the 84th in the Human Development Index.
Independence was achieved under the dream of building a great empire here. In the 1930s, the Austrian Stefan Zweig wrote a laudatory book entitled “Brazil, Country of the Future”. That empire and that future are far away, if they ever come.
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