Democracy can be messy, it can be cacophonic, decision-making can suffer from deadlocks, consensus may be a luxury, people’s will can sometimes appear to be tyrannical to quote De Tocqueville, but despite all these shortcomings, democracy is the best form of government which has stood the test of time and strain. It empowers people to have a strong opinion, but when democracy becomes illiberal to the extent of democratic institutions, which are otherwise resilient to exogenous shocks, become vulnerable, the real danger begins.
This is exactly the case in Brazil, in the recently concluded Brazilian general elections, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva won the election. The contest was closely fought with Bolsonaro garnering over 40% of the votes. It was widely expected that Bolsonaro notwithstanding his brazen behaviour on the issue of handing over power to his successor would honour democratic traditions and conventions in Brazil and peacefully hand over power to Da Silva who legitimately won the contest.
However, the attack on the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and even the police headquarters point to the audacity of Bolsonaro’s supporters to hijack the sacred institutions of Brazilian democracy and their zero tolerance for the rule of law and principles of natural justice.
Shadow of military?
The attacks aren’t an aberration; Brazil has been in the grip of military rule in the past. Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and The Last Man has argued that Brazilian democracy like the democracies of other developing countries is subject to power appropriation by the military who think that the civilian rulers are inept to run the country and that martial rule helps in the maintenance of discipline and prosperity in a country.
Bolsonaro, the former president, is also an army captain who has time and again indicated that democracy in Brazil is fragile and that military rule is not ‘too bad’ for the ‘betterment’ of Brazil. Like Myanmar, there is a strong possibility that the military’s shadow in the possible coup d’etat cannot be ruled out.
This ostensible civil-military discord is indicative of Brazil’s fragile socio-economic situation, the largest country in South America is suffering from an economic downturn and high rates of crime, and is still reeling from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Brazil allegedly had the second highest official death toll in the world.
Even as the rest of the world including India wakes up to this rude shock, it is necessary to understand some lessons for global democracy,
First, the need to combat far-right forces which threaten the social and political fabric of any society and country it rules, we see this in Poland, the US, Germany and other countries. Right-wing politics of the 21st century has been interspersed with homophobia, disdain for democratic institutions, extreme nationalism and a sheer disregard for globalisation. The onslaught of right-wing politics was seen in the world’s most developed democracy-USA in the form of the January 6 insurrection at the US capitol where a section of Trump supporters invaded the US congress and refused to accept the result of defeat of Donald Trump.
Secondly, dialogue is the way forward, nation-states can have differences with regard to their political orientations and policies, but the best way is to air the differences by the means of dialogue, this holds true for the not-so-liberal democracies like Hungary, Russia and even China. Dialogue must be undertaken through new global summits like a possible Dialogue for Global Democracy to preserve and protect democratic traditions, and institutions globally.
Thirdly, countries must not remain mute spectators when political and civil liberties are being trampled upon, India, the US and other leading democracies in the world have spoken out against the brazen invasion of Brazilian democratic institutions. More steps must be taken such as sanctioning the perpetrators of such an incident and demanding an impartial inquiry to be conducted by any UN body whose independence must be vigorously upheld. There must be a loud and clear message that democracy as a way of life is inviolable and the International Convention of Civil, Political and Economic Rights must be promoted.
Brazil’s democracy is on the edge, it is imperative that liberal democracies around the world support the democratic forces in Brazil to stage a fight back.
– The writer is currently working as a Research Associate at Defence Research and Studies (dras.in) and is a columnist. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda