Column by Sarah Weyers

Brazil's current political circumstances are putting the fourth largest democracy at risk

Text by Sarah Weyers
Photos © Sarah Weyers

The sun is shining softly through the big leafs of the carnauberia palm trees that form a perfect line alongside the busy roads of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The streets remind of those in San Francisco, equally many cars and pedestrians, and similarly steep hills that offer an incredible view. The lighthearted atmosphere in one of the biggest cities of Brazil doesn't indicate how fragile the state of the democracy currently really seems to be - being the fourth largest democracy in the world only after Indonesia, the US and India, Brazil's political tension is putting the peace of the country as well as its international standing at risk.

After surrendering to the police and beginning to serve his 12-year sentence in a federal prison at the beginning of April 2018, former president Luiz Ináco Lula da Silva is yet to endorse a new candidate for the upcoming elections. The arrest of the popular leftist candidate has thrown the elections into chaos, dividing the country into supporting crowds and right-oriented counter protests; the political and social tension more extreme than ever.

With politicians across all of Latin America and Africa being involved in what has been described as the biggest bribery and money laundering scandal in modern politics, the involvement of the former president was almost inevitable. The house by the seaside, which was the object of the bribery in da Silva's case, was only the tip of the iceberg of money laundering and bribery, mostly conducted by one of the largest construction companies globally, Odebrecht.

Now da Silva is to serve over a decade in prison, after the court had reportedly debated for over 10 hours and finally reached a verdict, condoning his actions and enforcing the imprisonment of the 72 year old. It had been argued that the documents provided by Odebrecht representatives were falsified in order to incriminate da Silva, but the court voted 6-5 in his corruption conviction.

Having built a transformational leftist party, da Silva changed the political history of the country and provided improvements in the quality of education, as well as a more stable economy. A local source commented that "Event though he was arrested and he did commit a crime, Lula [da Silva] has done great things for Brazil. People were miserable and now they are just poor. They are still poor, but they are not starving anymore." Even though imprisoned, the former president still enjoys great sympathy among the Brazilian people, with numbers as high as 31% that would vote for him if he were an available candidate. Narrowing the steep social inequality would have been one of the top priorities if da Silva had been eligible as a candidate to replace current president Michel Temer in October.

Even though US President Donald Trump does not enjoy the utmost popularity among European politicians, Brazilian right wing politician Jair Bolsonaro (Social Liberty Party) seems to be copying some of Trumps moves: Degrading women, lobbying for the gun industry and a free use and availability of weapons to every citizen, as well as inciting hate speech with attacks on women, black people, gay people and indigenous communities. His public speeches and press conferences are often lacking facts and contain mostly rambling and repetitions of phrases - again, a similar tactic as used by POTUS, are fascinating - not as much when transcribed, but definitely when watched live.

While Bolsonaro may not be representative of the general values and morals of the average Brazilian, he and his gun supporting political agenda represent law and order, which, in a country with approximately 60.000 homicides a year is something the pubic longs for.

The danger of the rise of right-wing parties has been proven in history more than once, and yet, they gain popularity all over the world. After Brexit, Trump and the rise of right tendencies in Germany, Austria and France, now Brazil is on the list of countries that rebel against current political representation by voting for the opposing parties; whether this is a favorable strategy for any of these countries or not is yet to be determined.

Overall, the political tension in Brazil may not be as tangible in the streets, and the fragility of the democracy not necessarily visible to foreigners, but as soon as the topic of politics or the upcoming elections come up in conversations, the fear and worries of Brazilian citizens from all across the country become obvious. Which consequences the potential presidency of a far-right candidate will have for both Brazil and the world are concerning; yet, the actual outcome will not be fully known until long after the elections in October.

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