When it became clear that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, also known as the “Trump of the tropics,” would fail to get reelected, fears of a Brazilian Jan. 6 began to grow louder. A man who had been spreading false accusations of electoral fraud and How does a president who says he will only accept the election result if he wins, loses to a high-profile challenger?
Now we know the answer.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro does not admit to being defeated. Like Trump, Bolsonaro feeds fake news to a large group of supporters — who also do not accept the election results — via social media on a daily basis.
As it turns out, Brazil does have its own version of January 6th. Instead of uncontrolled thugs storming Congress as the president passively watches, uncontrolled thugs block roads and highways across the country as the president passively watches.
Brazil’s largest airport had to cancel several flights because people couldn’t get past barricades led by truckers. But while it took Trump hours to decide to call on protesters to “go home,” Bolsonaro didn’t bother to say anything in the roughly 48 hours after the election. When he finally emerged after two days of silence, he gave a brief two-minute speech in which he did not explicitly acknowledge the election or name his opponent, Lula da Silva.
Why did Bolsonaro take so long to make a statement? One possible reason is that he is waiting to see how the post-election protests will develop and what kind of support he can get in his campaign for the outcome. But the protests have not gained wider attention, and no relevant media, religious, military or political figures have spoken out in support of the protests.
The normally pragmatic Brazilian political class soon began to think about strategies for survival in a post-Bolsonaro environment. The powerful president of the Chamber of Deputies, a strong supporter of Bolsonaro, declared that “the will of the majority, as it is expressed in the polls, can never be contested” and started negotiations with the team of the newly elected president to secure His place in the future Lula government. As a result, in the 48 hours after the election, Bolsonaro became increasingly isolated. When he finally decided to break his silence, he concluded that his best option was to cement his position as a political leader, thank his supporters and say that now “this right has really emerged in our country”.
One lesson Americans may have learned from Brazil’s election is that the speed at which votes are counted matters when dealing with a potential dictatorial president seeking re-election. With a nationalized electronic voting system – in use for more than 25 years – Brazilians can know the result of the election hours after voting closes. Before Bolsonaro could utter a word, world leaders led by Biden were already congratulating his challenger. Politicians backing Bolsonaro have accepted defeat, and even his vice president, the army general, has begun discussing the transition. The speed at which this all happened leaves little wiggle room. In the U.S., on the other hand, it takes days for voters to know the results, giving Trump and his supporters plenty of time to make false allegations of electoral fraud and to challenge the results when they are finally known.
As in the case of the United States, Brazil’s relatively young democracy will suffer the consequences of the president’s failure to abide by the basic rules of political etiquette. Even though things might appear normal, with the newly elected president taking charge following constructional procedures, the social marks will linger.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro will no longer serve – but BolsonismLike Trumpism, it will remain a powerful political force for years to come.
Regardless of who leads the executive branch, the deterioration of the civic political culture that underlies its appeal has become a reality. If Trump retakes the White House in 2024 — which is by no means impossible — his Brazilian students, 10 years his junior, will no doubt be watching.
Carlos Gustavo Poggio Teixeira is a professor of political science at Berea College in Kentucky. He received a Ph.D. Fulbright Scholar in International Studies at Old Dominion University, Virginia. He is the author of Subsystems of Brazil, the United States, and South America: Regional Politics and the Empire of Absence, selected by Foreign Affairs magazine as one of the best books on international relations of 2012.