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Brazil’s election: A complicated process and victorious Workers’ Party

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Brazil’s most recent presidential election has been making headlines all over the world for the past months. Different from the United States, Brazil’s election process does not involve an electoral college, nor is it optional. The voting process is mandatory and direct, meaning multiple parties choose their own candidate and make their campaign, and, in the period between October and November, the whole national population votes for their preferred candidate in one single day, during the same period of time.

Voting is permitted once a citizen reaches 16 years of age, and it becomes obligatory when they reach 18, which is the absolute legal age in Brazil. For the population above 70 years-old, voting becomes once again optional. The only exception from mandatory voting for those between the ages of 18 and 70 is in the case of legal illiteracy. There are consequences for those who do not vote or justify their absence: a fine is to be paid, and its amount is to be determined by an electoral judge. If the subject fails to pay such a fine or justify their absence, they shall be impeded from running for public job openings or obtaining a passport and/or ID card, among other examples.

Because of this, there are options for those who choose not to vote for any candidate, or to legally abstain from the elections: a blank vote or a null vote. Before the usage of electronic ballot boxes, there was a difference between these two types of votes. Leaving a blank card meant the elector agreed with whomever was elected, while a null card served a form of protest and discontentment of the elector. The latter was not a valid vote; that is, it was not taken into account when the voting count took place, while a blank vote counted towards the winning candidate. Nowadays, there is no such difference, for neither a blank nor a null vote are accounted for, and are therefore simply symbolic manners of fulfilling one’s legal duty as a citizen while still maintaining personal liberty. 

In the first round of presidential elections, a candidate that reaches over 50% of the popular vote will be automatically elected president. However, if that is not the case, then the two most voted candidates compete again in a second round through the same direct-popular-vote process. The election day is considered a national holiday and happens on a Sunday. To vote, citizens must physically attend their nearest voting facility – usually public school buildings in each neighborhood. This year, the first round took place on Oct. 2.

Some of the candidates that competed for Brazil’s presidency in 2022 were Ciro Gomes (from the party PDT), incumbent Jair Bolsonaro (PL), former office-holder Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (PT), Tebet (MDB), and Padre Kelmon (PTB). After months of campaigning, interviews, and an official presidential debate, first-round elections took place. The results showed Lula with 48.43% of the popular vote and Bolsonaro with 43.20%, leaving a minor percentage of votes to other candidates (Tebet with 4.16%, and Ciro with 3.04%). 

Sunday, Oct. 30, the second round was completed: Lula was elected president, surpassing Bolsonaro’s votes in a somewhat tight final count of 50.90% to 49.10%.

Both Brazilian and international media have covered the competition between these two candidates; a long-term dispute that dates to much earlier than this year’s election as a battle between right-wing and left-wing values.

Jair Bolsonaro

Affiliated with PL, or the Liberal Party, Jair Messias Bolsonaro started his political career in 1988 when he ran for the Rio de Janeiro City Council and got a seat in the city’s legislature. In 1990, he won the first of seven consecutive terms as a federal deputy for Rio de Janeiro, a position which he held until 2018. In 2018, Bolsonaro won the presidential elections with 55.13% of votes, competing in the second round with Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party (PT), a party that Lula was a contributing founder of and is still affiliated with. 

Bolsonaro’s popularity began to increase in 2016 and 2017 when the country impeached former Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff (PT), due to a corruption scandal revealed by Operation Car-Wash. Throughout his career, Bolsonaro was known for bluntly vocalizing his personal opinion on controversial topics, such as Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1964 and the LGBT community

Some values defended by Bolsonaro include the “traditional family”, anti-abortion rights, Christianity, free-market capitalism (economic freedom), privatization of federal companies, tax-simplification, religious freedom, facilitation of gun ownership for citizens who do not have a criminal background, and usage of natural resources towards economic growth (which was criticized by pro-enviroment groups during his presidency).

Many of these ideals, especially those pertaining to moral concepts, appealed directly to a great portion of Brazil’s people given the country’s large percentage of a Christian and conservative population. 

Bolsonaro’s corruption scandals

Later in his mandate, Bolsonaro began to be investigated for corruption scandals. The former president was investigated for fraud involving the purchase of COVID vaccines, which, according to Federal Deputy, Luis Claudio Fernandes Miranda, revealed an alleged fraud scheme in the negotiation for the purchase of 20 million doses of the immunizer. The complaint pointed to the involvement of the Ministry of Health, itself, and the Brazilian company, Precisa Medicamentos, responsible for selling the vaccine in Brazil. The deputy claims Bolsonaro was aware of the scheme as the Bolsonaro brothers had a meeting with the president in which fraudulent documentation was presented.

Another controversial decision of Bolsonaro during his mandate was the creation of the Secret Budget. Allowing deputies and senators to make transfers of public funds without there being a destination or declared recipient, this took away the transparency of parliamentary banking operations. He also made use of the decree of 100-year secrecy, created by former president, Dilma Rousseff (PT), meant to protect intimate or personal information regarding the president, which led to accusations of him hiding more corruption scandals under the decree.

Another corruption scandal involved Bolsonaro’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro, former state deputy, utilizing public resources to finance his personal expenses, a practice known as Rachadinha. The investigation case, however, was emptied and absolved due to formal errors in the process and irregularities in the investigation.

Lula da Silva

In the late 1960s, Lula, who at the time worked as a metallurgist, joined a union for metallurgic workers fighting for just working conditions, hours, and salary. In 1975, Lula became president of one of such unions and led strikes which marked the resurgence of the labor movement. In 1980, he helped found the Workers’ Party (PT) with which he continues to be affiliated. 

In 1986, Lula was elected Federal Deputy through São Paulo, and, in 1989, attempted to run for President of the Republic but was defeated. He ran again in 1994 and 1998, and finally was elected president in 2002, serving two consecutive mandates. He pledged to adopt pragmatic measures for the economy, announcing that he would respect all the commitments Brazil had with the foreign capital. He defends values such as the commonwealth of the country and support for those who lack opportunity and/or are undergoing financial hardship, things which he did take action upon with programs such as the Bolsa Familia. In his mandates, significant results for the Brazilian economy were obtained, such as a GDP growth of 5.7% in 2004, 4% in 2006, 6% in 2007, and an increase in the minimum wage from 200 reais to 540 reais over the eight years of government. 

Lula’s corruption scandals

By the end of Lula’s first mandate, it was discovered that members of the Workers’ Party (PT) were buying parliamentarians through slush funds, with the objective of guaranteeing the support of these parliamentarians for PT projects in the Legislative. Lula, however, was not directly affected by the scandal for he was not accused of being involved with the buying of parliamentarians. 

By the end of his second mandate, Lula faced more trouble when being accused of direct corruption. The complaints emerged through investigations by the Federal Police in Operation Car-Wash and Operation Zealot. Lula was accused of money laundering, concealment of assets, passive corruption, and more. 

Lula was taken to trial before Judge Sergio Moro, who sentenced him to nine and a half years of prison involving a corruption scandal regarding the purchase of a luxury apartment on the beach city of Guaruja, as well as a country home. Later, the sentence was increased to 12 years and one month. In April of 2018, Lula was arrested and remained in prison for 580 days.  

By the end of 2018, a court order was issued determining Lula’s release because his case had not been finalized. A decision was issued that he be released and not arrested until his trial was over. In early 2021, the Supreme Court completely annulled Lula’s conviction. Judge Sergio Moro was deemed incompetent to judge the case by the Supreme due to being partial (biased) in judgment. 

Finally, Lula was free to run for presidency again in 2022 where he faced Bolsonaro, a directly opposing candidate who claimed Lula to not be innocent.

The second debate: from Portuguese to English

The last presidential debate, which was held on Oct. 28, two days prior to the final round of elections, exclusively focused on Lula and Bolsonaro. Below are English translations of some of the candidates’ responses.

When allowed the right to ask direct questions to each other, contradictions appeared several times. Lula asked, “I want the candidate to state why, during four years, he did not raise the minimum wage,” to which Bolsonaro promptly responded, “We conceded adjustments to the minimum wage at least equal to inflation; we had a world-wide crisis, so we did what was possible.” 

Both candidates avoided certain questions; for example, Bolsonaro asked, “Now, the question I asked you, that you spread through the TVs and radio that I would end the thirteenth and paid vacation?” To which Lula replied, “I did not come here to answer to the candidate, I came here to converse with the people of Brazil, and I want to say loud and clear that during these four years the candidate has not given even one percent raise to the minimum wage…”

“Why did you isolate our country from the world? Tell the people!” asked Lula. “We amplified business with 190 countries; our trade balance has reached record numbers!” replied Bolsonaro. 

“Freedom of expression: Jovem Pan radio station was silenced by Minister Moraes and the TSE, but it was your party that took action to silence the radio. And you keep saying to control the media. Repeat what you say about free speech!” Bolsonaro accused Lula, to which he answered, “What the lawyers of PT took action for was a request of isonomy. Do you know what isonomy is? It’s equality, it’s the right to answer.”

“Admit that you are in favor of abortion, Lula, you have not the least respect with human life!” said Bolsonaro. “I am against abortion, all my spouses were against it, I have five children.” replied Lula.

“I’m saying that President Bolsonaro is a liar, who lied 6498 times during his mandate … That’s it!” says Lula in response to Bolsonaro calling him a liar. Bolsonaro regarding Lula’s unfinished court case which was dropped and led to his release from prison, “Lula, you are saying that you were absolved?! … You were dis-condemned, by a friend of the Supreme Court who thought you had been judged in Brasilia and not in Curitiba. You are a thief, Lula, where are your ministers?” 

Issues such as environmental protection, a very important question in these elections, resulted in different answers from candidates, with Lula claiming the Workers’ Party mandates dropped the rates of deforestation drastically, which, according to Lula, Bolsonaro’s government did the opposite to. Bolsonaro then states that it was during his government that the deforestation rates were dropped, recovering from Dilma’s (PT) mandate. 

Sources point to high deforestation rates under Bolsonaro, making the former president’s statement false. But opposing information where both sides speak eloquently and involve numbers makes it incredibly hard for the population to know the truth, especially given that even newspapers that claim to be unbiased show different information. This takes us to the issue of polarization that Brazil is currently undergoing.

Parallel realities?

After Lula’s victory was announced on Oct. 30, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters went to the streets in protest to showcase their frustration and indignancy. In order to impact the country and make their voices heard, several of them barricaded roads and highways with trucks and cars. Many highways in Brazil were impeded, blocking traffic from coming or going. This has led the country to a low supply of food, gas, and even medicine in certain areas. 

On Nov. 2, Bolsonaro publicly requested that his supporters unblock the roads. He argued that protests were valid and thanked his voters, but said that they should be peaceful and not obstruct any legislation, such as the right to come and go which the barricades were disobeying. He concluded that the people should maintain the values he fought for, which includes, according to his announcement, democracy, freedom, and following the constitution. 

He added that by leaving behind peaceful demonstrations, Brazil’s “right wingers will be equal to left winger protesters,” which, according to the former president, are violent and unlawful. The same day, a video had been released of a car running over many Bolsonaro supporters who were standing in the road during the barricade. There were at least ten injured, including children. 

On the other hand, Lula supporters have gone to the streets to commemorate his victory, celebrating democracy and the “end of a nightmare.

When researching videos and photos of the demonstrations of both sides, I encountered videos that show Bolsonaro supporters carrying Airsoft guns and even making, what has been called by many, a Nazi gesture, when Bolsonaristas hold their right arms up towards the Brazilian flag. I have also found videos of Bolsonaro supporter demonstrations that show people praying, singing, and crying in what appears a peaceful way of exercising their opinions.

I encountered videos that have been circulating through what is Brazil’s main source of fake news, WhatsApp, which claim to be recordings of “left-wingers celebrating Lula’s victory” by shooting guns in what appears to be a violent demonstration. This video has proven to be from 2019 and taken out of context. I have also found, again, videos showcasing peaceful demonstrations by Lula supporters, celebrating his victory with elders and children in what appears a non-violent manner. 

I have witnessed people from both sides stating that the opposing side lives in a “parallel reality“. Brazil is polarized to the point that a great part of the population has come to perceive those who disagree with them to be living in a made-up world, to be believing lies told by either side of the government.

For instance, Bolsonaro supporters say that the elections were rigged and that a fraud involving the electronic ballot boxes has occurred. According to Bolsonaro and his party, electronic ballots cannot be trusted and are “obsolete.” However, others state that the process was clear and democratic, and that there has never been proof of fraud in the three decades that the ballot boxes have been used. They support their argument by explaining how the ballot boxes work and how they are impenetrable, as said by the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court in this article. 

An argument used to support possible electoral fraud states that electronic ballot boxes might be unsafe, as explained in this research from Stanford University.  It is asked “why don’t other countries like the US utilize electronic ballots, if they are trustworthy and much more convenient and efficient?” The Stanford University article also presents case studies from the U.S., France, and Brazil. 

It is important to remember that both candidates excel in populism in different ways. Neither of them are outsiders to politics for they have both been involved in political positions for several decades, as aforementioned. 

Possibility of a military intervention 

Since the announcement of Lula’s election, Bolsonaro has not explicitly acknowledged his opponent’s victory. It is very well-known that Bolsonaro has proximity with the military given his own military past, which could be a factor in the possibility of a military intervention. More extremely, throughout the past days his supporters have called for an intervention, hoping to impede Lula from governing. Others hope for an impeachment to happen during Lula’s early mandate which begins January 2023. 

A Brazilian author’s closing thoughts

The research for this article included the reading of several articles published in Brazilian, American, and international media; it included the watching of Brazilian and American news and acknowledging articles and videos which were explicitly biased towards either side. This article also involved speaking to several fellow Brazilians, ranging from ages 17 to 80, who held different beliefs. 

While it is impossible to truly understand current Brazilian politics without thoroughly studying Brazil’s history from before its colonization to the modern day, it is clear that there is a great issue of polarization and misinformation that the country is currently facing. During my research, it became clear that it is nearly impossible to know if certain things are facts or not; many of those things being crucial to make a decision before voting. It reminded me of what was analyzed in a documentary called The Social Dilemma, which regards parallel realities that are constructed around each of us, leading individuals to live under a dome they deem to be the whole world. 

Many alleged rumors that I encountered throughout the past months have grown to appear, to me, not so implausible as they once did. Many alleged facts have grown, in turn, to seem questionable. Taking a step back from the political theater of populism and presidential debate performances, I am left indignant for myself and for my people, who seem to be left in darkness and confusion which, ultimately (and very quickly), leads to distraction and violence.

It seems that while we irrationally fight amongst ourselves, we are distraught from the fact that we are all, as a people, fighting for precisely the same things: liberty, sustenance, shelter, well-being, and justice. It is amazing to me how the same wills grow to display such different faces, becoming unrecognizable. I ask the same question as you: who is to blame? Or, more so, what to do and how to move forward? I humbly answer ⁠– I don’t know. My last word would be to care for those close to you, to be kind to those around you, and to amiably, although firmly, stand for what you believe in. 

I believe it is important to remind ourselves to never put any politician or leader upon a pedestal, which is something that visibly happened on both sides of this election. Rather, I believe we should always keep rigid in our expectations from any government and hold them accountable, no matter their identity, for their actions and inactions. There is no great savior, there are only people.

Content Editor at Seattle Collegian

Sophia is an international student from Brazil, who recently moved to Seattle to pursue her higher education. Music, writing, and Science are her broadest and greatest passions. Sophia is a young classical singer, as well as an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa. Despite being highly artistic and emotional, she bears great love for the Natural Sciences, and has the desire to pursue a Physics & Astronomy later in life. At the moment, she works for both the Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery. Within all forms of writing, she believes the greatest role of the writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth, in the broadest possible way.

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