Brazil is the fifth largest democracy in the world, it is also currently one of the most fragile. While President Jair Bolsonaro often claims to defend “democracy”, contradictorily, he has put Brazil’s democracy further at risk. He has done this by limiting the freedom of the press, spreading misinformation, and attempting to take power away from the judicial branch in order to consolidate more power for himself.
Delegitimizing Elections Through Baseless Claims of Fraud
President Jair Bolsonaro claims that Brazil’s electronic voting system is rigged and maintains that the last two presidential elections were tainted by fraud. Since 1996, Brazil has used electronic voting machines, which do not have access to the internet. President Bolsonaro would like the voting machines to print a paper receipt of the vote, which would then be placed into a physical ballot box, in an attempt to prevent fraud. His claims of electoral fraud have not been proven or supported by any evidence. Luis Barroso, the Superior Electoral Tribunal president, states that Bolsonaro’s proposal is “a risky solution to a problem that does not exist”. Barroso also suggests that this could actually help facilitate fraud that Brazil previously experienced with paper ballots. The President has hinted at cancelling the 2022 election altogether if his proposal does not go through, warning that Brazilians “could not permit the existing electoral system to remain in place and that there could not be elections that create doubts among voters” (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/15/brazil-bolsonaro-threatens-democratic-rule#). The electoral tribunal has dismissed Bolsonaro’s claims as ‘disinformation’. In a bid to hold him accountable, they have gone as far to open investigations against him regarding his allegations of fraud within the election system (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58479028). The attack on the election system is merely a way to undermine citizens’ fundamental rights and democratic institutions in Brazil. If President Bolsonaro is not re-elected, these baseless claims of electoral fraud set up a platform for him to contest the will of the people if he loses.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the severity of the virus. Brazil has the world’s second highest toll in terms of COVID-19-related deaths. In March 2020, Bolsonaro stated the effect of the virus was similar to a minor cold (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/project-authoritarian-bolsonaro-pandemic-erosion-democracy-brazil-en/). However, the President has capitalized on the virus in terms of acquiring greater power and adopting a more authoritarian leadership style. At the beginning of the global outbreak, Bolsonaro fired Brazil’s health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who strictly followed the World Health Organization’s public guidelines. A week later, Sergio Moro’s resignation as the Brazilian justice minister created an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis. Moro accused President Bolsonaro of interfering with Brazil’s Federal Police. The President appointed Alexandre Ramagem, who was formerly the head of Brazil’s intelligence agency, as the new federal police director (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/project-authoritarian-bolsonaro-pandemic-erosion-democracy-brazil-en/). It is important to note that the Bolsonaro family also has personal ties to Ramagem. As a result, Justice Alexandre de Moraes vetoed his appointment. In response, President Bolsonaro encouraged his supporters to protest against Congress and the Supreme Court. Many of these protests turned violent and resulted in journalists suffering physical assaults.
As the pandemic worsened in 2020, Bolsonaro fired another health minister, Dr. Nelson Teich, due to conflicting views on how to respond to the pandemic. Dr. Teich was replaced by Eduardo Pazuello, a former army general with no medical training. Pazuello joined more than six thousand military personnel currently working under President Bolsonaro’s administration, suggesting an increase in militarization (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/brazil/2021-11-01/democracy-dying-brazil?utm_medium=promo_email&utm_source=lo_flows&utm_campaign=registered_user_welcome&utm_term=email_1&utm_content=20211130).
Conflict with the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court and Congress have had a hard time checking Bolsonaro’s actions and power. The president utilizes the spread of misinformation and threats to intimidate the judicial branch. The Supreme Court is currently in charge of investigations into Bolsonaro’s behavior. Supreme Court Justice Moraes oversees the federal police investigation into whether Bolsonaro interfered with “internal federal police appointments to further his personal interests” (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/15/brazil-bolsonaro-threatens-democratic-rule#). This investigation is specifically looking into Bolsonaro’s appointment of Alexandre Ramagem. On September 7, 2021, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he would not support any decision by Justice Moraes. Bolsonaro also instructed Justice Moraes to close the investigations involving his conduct and told the Chief Justice, Luiz Fux, “the justice system can suffer something we don’t want to happen” if Moraes is not punished. On September 8, 2021, Chief Justice Fux stated that “insulting justices and inciting non-compliance with judicial decisions are anti-democratic, illegal, and intolerable practices” (https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/15/brazil-bolsonaro-threatens-democratic-rule#).
Muntaha Syedah Qadri
Hey Brooke! I was so fascinated when I read your blog post about Brazil. As many countries seem to have a large democracy in the world, you would not assume that Brazil would be considered one of them. I feel as more democracies nowadays can be labeled as fragile if there is something that is going on with their leaders. In this case, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro took part. As actions like taking civil liberties put a toll on a country’s democracy. This is in the same case as India. India’s leader, Modi, was taking away the civil liberties of his people, which is causing India’s democracy to decline. Both countries are weakening in democratic institutions, more so on the judiciary part. I feel as time goes by with countries that have a democratic system but have bad leaders, it causes the democracy to diminish. The leader’s goal is to get all the power to themselves and make the country less democratic.
Reading your blog post, made me change my perspective on Brazil. Looking in depth at the events that take place in a country can help explain the reason behind a country’s democracy to grow or decline. Also, I feel as nowadays, the pandemic has truly affected all the countries negatively. This also shows the relationship of the leader, the covid-19 response, and the democracy. If the leader is bad, they end up not having a good response to the pandemic, which eventually causes the democracy to become fragile and decline.
Hey brooke! I was extremely fascinated by your post and actually really appreciate how your organized/ structured it as well. I knew nothing about the Brazilian government going into this, but drew some similarities to the US from your first paragraph. The claim of “fraudulent votes” does not seem to be only an american issue. As seen in our most recent election, trump used this tactic as well. It is hard to say whether he truly believed this or was trying to manipulate his supporters. Whatever the case, I found it interesting that other governments have politicians making the identical claims. I also liked how you dove into why this is truly an issue; that this was a way to undermine his citizens and additionally a way to contest the election if he loses. I also had no clue that brazil has the 2nd highest amount of covid-related deaths in the world. This seems to be as a result of Bolsonaro grossly downplaying the severity of the virus. With brazil being one of the largest democracies in the world, I didn’t think that this would be an issue here. Finally, the lack of checks and balances from the supreme court and congress are also very interesting. It seems like other branches of the government are unable to put a stop to Bolsonaro’s legislation, creating a consolidation of power in the central government. On a more funny note, “Chief Justice Fux” is arguably the single funniest name i have seen a government official have.
Hi Brooke! This post was really educational and I was able to learn a lot about Brazil that I did not know previously. You did a great job at outlining the major factors contributing to democratic erosion in the country. I thought you explained the factors well and helped the reader, myself, understand what is truly going on.
One of the more interesting things from your post was the effect of covid on the country and how the President measly compared it to a cold. After reading your article, it was interesting to look up how covid has affected the country so negatively. Having so much change within the health department officials is definitely a huge contributor to that as well with a lack of stability on hand for a very real pandemic. The court issue was also very interesting as though the President has a very real power over the judicial system, which is scary for democracy everywhere. Overall, you did a great job explaining the threats that are apparent in Brazil and I learned a lot!
Hi Brooke, I really enjoyed this post and thought you did a very nice job of analyzing some key factors that make President Bolsonaro such a great threat to Brazil’s democracy. I found it interesting that Bolsonaro runs on an anti-corruption platform, yet the idea he has proposed for fixing electoral fraud seems to just worsen the problem. The integrity of elections is in my opinion the strongest determinant of the democratic status of a country. It is worrying that Bolsonaro has so much support and is still willing to tear down the democratic institutions of Brazil such as voting. I also thought your analysis of Brazil’s COVID-19 response was very well done; I did not know that Brazil’s adminsitration had such an aggressively negative response to COVID-19 precautions. I drew similitarities between Brazil’s response and Hungary’s response to the pandemic. There was a similar downplay of the severity of the virus by an authoritarian populist leader. Both countries’ corrupt governments attempted to push the rhetoric that those placing regulations were attempting to curb the rights of the citizens and take control of them. Hungary has also faced issues of horizontal accountability regarding its judicial branch similar to that of Brazil. Because both authoritarian leaders Orban and Bolsonaro have weakened the powers of justices who have the ability to place checks on them. Having an independent branch within the government that can hold other branches accountable is essential to a functioning democracy, and the future for Brazil does not look bright without a strong Supreme Court and electoral process in place.
Brooke, I really liked your post and I think you made some great points about the state of Brazil and how their democracy has been declining. I truly think that Jair Bolsonaro is destroying Brazil’s democracy through his dictator-like actions. I think it is obvious that Bolsonaro will do whatever it takes to stay in power, whether that means abuse his power or spread misinformation, he will do it to get more years in office. I think that the way he spreads misinformation is extremely dangerous and the fact that he has hinted towards not holding an election simply because most people do not want to go along with his ideas is very reminiscent of a dictatorship. I wonder what will end up happening and if people will end up protesting this if he happens to not hold elections. His spread of misinformation reminds me of how Trump would spread misinformation while he was in office and even after the most recent election saying that it had been rigged. I think that Bolsonaro poses a serious threat to Brazilians, and I think that the example of how he addresses the COVID-19 pandemic shows this. The fact that he was downplaying the severity of the virus is really concerning. I really hope that he loses power in Brazil and a better candidate is elected for the sake of Brazilians.