Fri, Oct 12, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Democracy at a crossroads in Brazil and the US

As Jair Bolsonaro edges closer to presidential victory, democracy in South and North America has rarely seemed so fragile

By Jeffrey Rubin  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

Voters in Brazil and the US face elections in the coming weeks whose outcomes will directly influence the future of democracy in the Americas.

In Brazil, the candidate who captured 46 percent of the votes in the first-round presidential elections on Saturday last week, Social Liberal Party candidate Jair Bolsonaro, advocates torture and speaks in favor of military rule as a way to solve deep societal problems.

Bolsonaro is to face Brazilian Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, who gained 29.3 percent of the first-round votes, in final elections on Oct. 28.

Elsewhere, the process of filling Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the US Supreme Court underscored the indifference, if not contempt, with which US President Donald Trump and Republicans in the US Congress treat basic democratic norms. Pro- and anti-Trump forces have mobilized voters around this and other crucial issues, such as immigration and women’s rights, for midterm elections there on Nov 6.

Despite differing histories and cultures, the political events and electoral campaigns in Brazil and the US exhibit striking similarities.

In North and South America alike, they raise a haunting question: In the human rights struggles of the 21st century, who will count as citizens?

Brazil is the fourth-largest democracy in the world and the US the second-largest. In 2002 and 2008 respectively, the voters of both countries elected presidents different from any who had preceded them: In the US, an African-American, and in Brazil, a steel worker and union leader with little formal education. Each of these presidents, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Barack Obama, fostered gender and racial inclusion and implemented key aspects of the left-of-center platforms on which they had campaigned.

Lula brought millions of Brazilians out of poverty with his bolsa familia program of aid to poor families and opened Brazil’s universities to black and working-class students.

Obama extended medical access to millions through his health insurance reform, supported racial and gender equality through federal policies and Supreme Court appointments, and joined the Paris accords to mitigate climate change.

At the same time, each president chose not to rock the boat economically, achieving substantial economic growth through mainstream economic policies.

And each has been followed by a brutal right-wing backlash.

The similarities go deeper. Lula and Obama each served two terms, and each was succeeded in his own party by a female presidential candidate, further opening the path to inclusion. Each woman appeared more mainstream and cautious than her predecessor, while remaining committed to a modestly progressive agenda.

What happened? Fromer Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff won elections in 2010 and 2014, but before she could complete her second term, right-wing forces impeached her, replacing her with then-vice president Michel Temer, a conservative. While technically legal, the impeachment process saw Rousseff ousted for minor transgressions by famously corrupt male politicians.

In 2016, Trump defeated former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton in elections that were legal, but marred by charges of Russian interference, hacking of e-mail accounts, politically timed FBI revelations and incitements to violence. Trump also lost the popular vote.

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