Bolsonaro’s Cold Reaction Ahead of the 2022 Brazil Elections

  • Bolsonaro seeks to be re-elected despite his loss of popularity and his multiple controversies.
  • Increasing electoral support to the former president Lula da Silva after the lifting of his criminal charges.
  • Bolsonaro’s comments to undermine the electoral system and his attempts to reform it were blocked by the judicial and parliamentary opposition.
Jair Bolsonaro

Why is Bolsonaro cold?

Answer: Bolsonaro’s unpopular attempt to reform the electoral system towards the prohibition of the electronic vote.

Bolsonaro’s mandate (commenced in 2019) has been marked by polemic decisions and declarations, as well as by the impactful COVID-19 pandemic that weakened the President’s standing. One ongoing quarrel started in the summer of 2021 when Bolsonaro critiqued Brazil’s electoral system over a series of comments on social media. He raised concerns about the same electoral system that, in 2018, elected him president. Far from singular accusations, he has continuously doubted the effectiveness, fairness, and transparency of the system.

At the same time, electoral polls started favouring the main opposition in the upcoming 2022 elections, especially Lula da Silva (simply known as Lula) and his Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT-Workers Party). Accounting for the historical significance of Lula in the modern political history of Brazil, his comeback to national politics signals the failure of Bolsonaro’s political project, which promised—with a conservative and populist discourse—to distance Brazil from the policies of former presidents like Lula and Dilma Rousseff (PT).

Public opinion has grown distrustful of Bolsonaro’s figure and his policymaking. Criticism for his covid-19 pandemic management has come from citizens’ organisations, opposition parties, and within his own government. As an attempt to remain in power, Bolsonaro is charging against the electoral system to foster distrust among Brazilian citizens. While claiming that he does not fear elections, he would ‘only deliver the presidential sash to the winner if the votes are auditable and trustworthy’. 

Bolsonaro claims that it is easy for hackers to attack the process and change the votes. He has gone as far as threatening the postponement of elections unless the voting system is reformulated to tackle this issue. Despite the lack of constitutional powers to do so, the president vowed to act outside the constitution. These declarations were highly criticised inside and outside Brazil. Judges, the Superior Electoral Court, the President of the Senate, and even the US president Joe Biden warned Bolsonaro that these declarations are not to be taken lightly.

Who is changing Bolsonaro’s temperature?

Answer: Luis Alberto Barroso and the Superior Electoral Court, as well as the Parliament, are among the many fronts that confront Bolsonaro’s claims.

So far, Brazil’s past elections were uneventful, fair, and competitive elections. Bolsonaro’s attack on this system has started an unprecedented debate about it. However, apart from his followers, he has not found any strong support in the institutions and citizenry.

Last August, his institutional attempts to modify the electoral laws were blocked in the Parliament when members of the Liberal Party (PL), Bolsonaro’s support, pushed Constitutional amendments to return to printed votes. The bill did not count with sufficient support in parliament (with 308 votes needed, the amendment received only 229).

To tackle the spread of these fake news, Supreme Court judge Luis Roberto Barroso, also head of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), dared Bolsonaro to present proof of these alleged frauds that occurred in previous elections. Bolsonaro’s response was limited to insulting him in one of his live streams on Facebook, which was deleted soon after and, to date, proofs are still to be delivered.

Apart from Barroso, nine Supreme Court judges and former presidents of the TSE have denied the veracity of Bolsonaro’s accusations. The TSE is the highest judicial body of Brazilian Electoral Justice, and its influence in the democratic process of Brazil is significant; however, judge Barroso still holds that the impeachment of Jair Bolsonaro would not solve the electoral conflict that he has started.

What is driving Bolsonaro?

Answer: Bolsonaro’s intention to remain in power and prepare for a possible ‘electoral fraud’ rhetoric.

Controversies aside, Jair Bolsonaro is a rational actor. Every decision taken during his term answered a personal, ideological, or systemic interest. For example, his inaction during the Covid-19 pandemic is explained by his downplaying of the virus and the primacy he gave to the Brazilian economic engine over public health. There are many fronts that have negatively affected his popularity and electoral support, as well as his credibility in front of the institutions.

From the Congress’ and Supreme Court’s rejection of some of his policies, like the Social Media bill; to the resignation of officials under his mandate, and the constant loss of electoral support and credibility, Bolsonaro’s influence and chances of succeeding in the upcoming elections are at an all-time low. Ultimately, the last push for Bolsonaro’s scrutiny of the country’s electoral system was the lifting of criminal charges and restoration of political rights of former president Lula da Silva (PT) in Spring of 2021.

In July 2018 Lula was jailed over a series of corruption scandals that shook Brazilian society. During the 2018 elections, Jair Bolsonaro used these accusations to distance himself from corruption and offered an alternative political project, far from the social policies of former years. However, the Supreme Court ruled in March 2021 that Lula’s convictions were to be nullified, as his prosecution was deemed politically motivated and that judge Sergio Moro, who oversaw his trial (and later became Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice and Public Security), was biased. Today, even without Lula officially presenting himself as a candidate, many electoral polls signal him as the favourite candidate for October.

With almost a year until the next elections, Bolsonaro faces his hardest challenge yet: to remain in power. The resurgence of Brazil’s political left is a reality, and as a last resort, Bolsonaro’s strategy is to weaken the democratic electoral system through the fabrication of claims against it. While it may not favour his public opinion and voting intention enough to re-elect him, it may divide Brazilian society and start a currently inexistent debate about the issue. 

Some analyst say that Bolsonaro has underlying authoritarian ideas within his comments, trying to detract Brazilian democracy to accumulate power. Far from bold comments, Bolsonaro has often praised Brazil’s past military dictatorship, as well as encouraged the military to intervene in national politics. His populistic leadership has fabricated him many enemies, but it has also allowed him to obtain fervent followers and advocates that believe in him and would defend his claims of fraud in the upcoming elections.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: A growing trend of leaders who undermine trust in electoral systems in order to stay in power as the likes of Donald Trump in the US or Jeanine Añez in Bolivia.

The irregularities identified by the Organisation of American States in the 2019 Bolivian elections and the convocation of new elections helped the opposition candidate Jeanine Añez to ignite the claims of anti-democratic behaviour of former president Evo Morales, leading to rioting in the streets and sudden political change in the institutions. Whether these claims were true or not, this strategy provided Añez with enough popularity to assume the interim presidency for a year, to then be detained under charges of terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy.

Nonetheless, the most infamous—and recent— rhetoric of electoral fraud was pursued a year ago in the United States, when former president Donald Trump denounced irregularities in the electoral process. This led to the Capitol Riots, one of the most fragile moments in American democracy.

Even if this strategy is unsuccessfully attempted by Bolsonaro, it can serve as a precedent for its neighbouring countries and similar leaders outside America. Globalisation makes it possible that internal conflicts in Brazilian politics may affect your country’s politics, and therefore you.

Alberto Campos Moya

Research & Analysis Member