The number of military men in politics rose in 2018

Retired Army General Hamilton Mourão rose to fame last year, after defending a military coup if Brazil’s Justice system failed to punish corrupt politicians. Now, he is a vice presidential nominee, running alongside far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro – another former member of the Brazilian Armed Forces. They are part of a growing phenomenon in Brazil: the increasing military presence on electoral ballots.

Back in February, Mr. Mourão had promised to organize a “military front” for the elections. “We’ll have candidates in a number of – if not all – states. They will all have the same drive: the interests of the nation and of the military men. I’ll be the articulator of that,” he then declared. Now that all candidacies have been submitted to the Superior Electoral Court, we can see that he has delivered on his promise, with twice the number of military candidates as there were four years ago.

While the final numbers are yet to be confirmed, we can estimate that 7 percent of the total amount of candidates running for the executive branch at all levels will be connected to the barracks in some capacity – be they from the Armed Forces, Firefighter Corps, or the Military Police. In 2014, they accounted for roughly 3 percent of the candidate pool.

Political scientist Fernando Schuler, of the São Paulo-based Insper Business School, believes that Jair Bolsonaro’s rise in the polls helps explain the trend. Lingering economic problems, coupled with a failure of the public security apparatus, have made it easier for fringe politicians to thrive. Brazilian voters are desperate for a solution to the homicide epidemic, which killed 63,880 people last year – and military candidates promise a tough approach to fight crime.

The military as a response to violence

“As our democracy faces chaos, the rhetoric of chaos grows stronger, and subsequently brings an appeal to order. [Military men and women] retire at a younger age, they have social prestige and don’t face many obstacles to run for office. They don’t have to give up their careers and paychecks in order to become politicians,” Mr. Schuler told The Brazilian Report.


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Army Commander General Eduardo Villas Bôas believes that the increasing military presence on electoral ballots is a response to the growing levels of violence in many Brazilian regions. “Military men are being instigated to run as a consequence of the current national moment. Opinion polls show that the Armed Forces has the highest levels of prestige among all other institutions,” he said.

Yes, but as The Brazilian Report showed, the increasing presence of the military in politics and everyday life (with the federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro as a prime example) has pushed down the levels of trust of the Brazilian people.

Mr. Schuler doesn’t think the popularity of the Armed Forces is related to a rise of conservatism in Brazil. Not at all. “Behavioral conservatism is an old part of Brazil’s social fabric. It has gained political expression and flourished because of the culture war which is mostly fought on the internet.”

From dictatorship nostalgics to left-wing militants

It would be a mistake to paint the military candidates with the same broad brush. They range from fans of Jair Bolsonaro – and deniers of the brutalities committed during the dictatorship – to left-wing supporters. There are, though, some common traits to the multiple candidacies: a lack of experience in traditional politics, programs that leave a lot to be desired in terms of substance, and a rejection for a new military intervention (at least, that’s what they declare).

Army Major Adriano Costa e Silva, 41, will run for governor of São Paulo. Polling at 0.4 percent, it is safe to say he won’t win the race. He says that another military intervention would be harmful to the country, but sees the requests from fringes of the extreme right for a military coup as an incentive for him and his colleagues to fight for public office.

In Sergipe, military police officer Márcio Souza, also 41, says he is ostracized for not fitting the profile of the average military candidate. A Christian member of the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party, he claims to be seen with distrust by both sides of the aisle. “When people know I’m a military man, they think I’m trying to infiltrate and implode the party. In the barracks, people look at me as if I were against the very existence of our police force,” he said in a recent interview.

The stereotypical military candidate is better represented by General Paulo Chagas, who is running for governor of Brasilia. Retired since 2006, he is a member of the group “Terrorism: Never again,” which tries to deny the atrocities committed during the dictatorship (of which he speaks with fondness). His group, according to his own definition, serves as a counterpoint to the history as told by “communists and subversive militants” that fought against the regime.

A rising force?

Some of the maneuvers of Army Commander General Villas Bôas are a sign of the creeping power of the military. He recently held talks with ten presidential hopefuls on issues ranging from national defense to the federal budget.

Since Brazil’s democratization, in 1985, only two members of the military who had served as governor – appointed by the authoritarian regime – returned to power. One of them was Air Force Brigadier Ottomar Pinto, who lost the 2002 Roraima gubernatorial race – but stepped into office after the winning candidate was convicted of an electoral crime. Mr. Pinto was re-elected in 2006.

The other was Deputy Navy Admiral Annibal Barcellos, who won the race in Amapá back in 1990.

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BY Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.