Brazilian Election Under Threat

By Ana Borges

Since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1984), the first round of general elections – which includes election of the president – have come to be scheduled every four years on the first weekend of October.

This year, elections are scheduled for October 2, however, Brazil faces a challenge to the electoral system and the possibility of a new coup d’état The country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is not only a former military captain (forced out in disgrace in 1988), but also a politician with a three-decade dedication to defending the dictatorship (which, along with many coup apologists, he refers to as the “counter-revolution”).

As president, Bolsonaro employed more military personnel in the government than the dictatorship did at any time during those 20 years. He is now fully engaged in questioning Brazil’s electoral system with direct assistance from the armed forces.

Bolsonaro openly complains the system that elected him in 2018 cannot be trusted, while the military pushes for more involvement in evaluating the electronic voting system for the October elections. Every report back from the armed forces increases its criticism towards the electoral system. This not so implicitly feeds the threat the results of the elections may not be accepted.

With left wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva so far ahead on the polls, Bolsonaro seems determined to find a way to lead his own military coup.

Supporters of Brazilian former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (C) carry him on their shoulders in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, 09 November 2019.

Resistance to Bolsonaro

Some of the strategies used to fight the military dictatorship that led to re-establishing democratic government in the 1980s are being re-employed to build resistance in the country now. A recent example is the campaign around two open letters. One is a letter for organisations, the other is open for the signature of organisations and individuals.

This last one, ‘the letter to Brazilians for democracy’ (or ‘Citizen’s manifesto’ as translated to the English-speaking media), has been signed by artists, academics and well know left leaning politicians – but also by a broad group of representative organisations. These range from the main trade union federation (Central Única dos Trabalhadores – CUT) to the Brazilian Federation of Banks (FEBRABAN) and FIESP (an organisation for company owners in São Paulo). This was the first time in history CUT and FIESP signed the same document.

On the 11th of August, the lawyers’ national day (most professions have one), thousands gathered in the main law universities around the country to hear academics and community leaders read the text of the letter in full. The open letter is an effort to engage the Brazilian society with the idea of democracy as a value worth fighting for at this moment.

The letter and the act that followed its released were inspired by the 1977 open letter – a call to reinstitute citizen’s votes. The 2022 open letter is a call to accept the results of the upcoming election. It is so representative that all main presidential candidates have signed it – except Bolsonaro.

There is a critique of the open letter campaign made by some public figures around the left. This emphasises how his kind of movement does not dialogue with the larger unorganised segments of the working class who do not structure their demands around valuing bourgeois institutions with a history of oppressing the working class (e.g., the Supreme court).

According to this critique, If people are to take the streets and unify around demands, such demands should be food security (poverty has increased in Brazil), stronger social safety net and not some very general understanding of democracy: an open letter read by academics and signed by bankers is not the way you bring the most disenfranchised to the struggle.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that after two years of COVID-19 and the need for self-isolation, and four years of a government openly opposed to social organising (unless it was for the single purpose of adoring the country’s leader), this open letter has brought thousands to the streets in all major state capitals.

Law academics gathering signatures from business owners will most likely not lead the way for the emancipation of the working class, but thousands of people on the streets opposing the return of a dictatorship is something to be fostered and celebrated. The task now is to keep people mobilised to take the streets for the next fights coming.

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