Brazil’s polarizing Bolsonaro-Lula contest goes to voters in the middle, in a nation of half a billion who feel both the country’s first modern president and the most recent leader of the labor movement have failed them in a deep recession, rising inflation, and an unstable, unpredictable political system.
But the contest between Bolsonaro and Lula — the most polarizing since the end of the country’s military dictatorship and their respective electoral campaigns in 1964 and 1985 — may serve as a cautionary tale about the risks of political participation.
This contest is about far more than personalities or the economy. It is also about the limits of Brazilian society.
One of the most fundamental issues raised by the Brazilian presidential election is the legitimacy of the institution of the political party. If Bolsonaro takes office, he will lead Brazil back to a period of political isolation, particularly with the United States.
This is not because the political parties are illegitimate or undemocratic, but because the Brazilian parties have for decades been dominated by wealthy elite elites. The result is that they have no credibility left to challenge the government or the president’s policies. To be sure, it’s not just for the sake of Brazilian democracy that the Brazilian parties should be marginalized, but also so that they can be effectively democratized. That’s why the recent movement across Brazil against the parties has been so important.
In the past, Brazil’s parties were a way of unifying society from below, offering a social base to support public and electoral participation. But today, parties have only become a way to channel the political class.
This is evident both with a lack of trust between the political leadership and members of the political class and, at least for now, between the president and members of congress who support him. The president’s popularity has plummeted, which he has admitted and which can be attributed to his aggressive, populist policies. For the president to be viewed with even more distrust and resentment is a serious risk.
Parties have never been legitimate, but have always been illegitimate. The roots of democracy