Brazil’s face-off between incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, penned in for October, is the fiercest political fight the country has seen in decades. For many voters, the election results are not just about the next four years, but the very future of Brazilian democracy itself.
On one side, citizens seek to send a civic message to Jair Bolsonaro, voting him out of office and standing against his threats of a power grab. On the other, many of the president’s voters fear that the return of Lula and the left-leaning Workers’ Party would lead to the implantation of communism in Latin America’s biggest country — a claim that is as farcical as it should sound.
The threat of Mr. Bolsonaro barricading himself in office should he lose, however, seems a possibility. For years, the president has dished out misinformation about the country’s electoral system — suggesting without proof that it is rigged against him — and has declared he will only leave the presidency if he is killed or arrested. Evidently, this is not democracy.
Brazilian democracy is but a child by Western standards. After a long military dictatorship, the Brazilian public only got to vote for its president in 1988 — and two presidents have been impeached since then. Thus, suggesting that the entire system may be at risk because of one erratic and rule-breaking president should not be discounted. There are many in politics and around the country who remember the military dictatorship well — a return is an extremely remote possibility, but not beyond the realms of one’s imagination.
As a late-in-the-day response to these existential threats to Brazil’s democracy, academics, bankers, business owners, and celebrities have chosen to band together and take a stand against Mr. Bolsonaro’s anti-democratic discourse. On Thursday morning, two separate manifestos were read aloud in the University of São Paulo’s law school, gathering huge crowds and media attention.
Brazil’s banking class typically keeps its powder dry in political matters — preferring to lobby behind the scenes — which makes this demonstration all the more significant. For Mr. Bolsonaro, he will be upset to realize he was wrong in his assumption that Big Finance would back him wherever he went.
Whether this symbolic act has any concrete influence on the election results is unclear and, truthfully, unlikely. What it does show, however, is that any potential power grab from the sitting president would struggle to muster much institutional support from major sectors of the economy, which is crucial.