Earlier this month, thousands of supporters of ousted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ransacked government buildings in Brasilia, including the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace. The incident, which set Brazilian taxpayers back by millions, was acknowledged as a cowardly attack on democracy by leaders around the world. It appears to be a rip-off from the playbook brandished by supporters of former US President Trump, who went ahead and laid siege to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021, in the aftermath of the announcement to formalise the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
The recent developments spell tough times for newly elected President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is burdened with the task of cleaning up the mess his predecessor Bolsonaro had put the country through during his tenure. The far-right, ultra-nationalist Bolsonaro was an ardent supporter of Brazil’s merciless military dictatorship. His stint witnessed Brazil’s economy biting the dust, as citizens found themselves in the midst of a hunger crisis and a healthcare infrastructure in tatters. One of Bolsonaro’s most shameful legacies is 7 lakh people losing their lives to COVID-19.
Bolsonaro was derided for downplaying the impact of the coronavirus crisis and for the botched response of his administration. The conspiracy-theory-loving leader’s regime also witnessed the rampant and rapid deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, a topic highlighted at the Climate Change Conference last year. President Lula is also faced with a new breed of extreme right wing advocates in Brazil, who have been force fed misinformation by Bolsonaro’s hyperactive social media influencers. These supporters have not even desisted from calling for a coup, and if necessary, a civil war to oust a democratically elected government.
Political observers have noted the similarities between the events of Jan 6, 2022 and Jan 8, 2023. They believe the developments are indicative of a world stuck in a vicious cycle of democratic recession. The assault has laid bare vulnerabilities pertaining to the nation, whose claim to democracy is only 38-years-old. During this relatively short period, it has dealt with big ticket corruption scandals and distrust in the government machinery. One such scandal had even landed Lula in prison.
Owing to such fragile foundations, the country is rendered susceptible to extremist forces. The challenge ahead of Lula is to put his nation back on track, preferably via equity and inclusivity oriented growth. The Leftist Workers’ Party chief has a track record of performing under duress. His prior two regimes from 2003-2011 saw the leader opting for an economic strategy that combined market friendly policies with a high spending on public welfare initiatives. Lula’s policies are considered by experts as the driver that pulled 25 mn Brazilians out of abject poverty while simultaneously ensuring economic progress.
On the upside, Lula is backed by Brazil’s progressive, liberal and working class, apart from Leftist governments in neighbouring nations like Venezuela and Chile. To advance his agenda of rebuilding the nation and bringing citizens together, Brazil has passed a constitutional amendment that raises a government spending cap by at least $28 bn. This will allow Lula to fulfil his campaign pledges, and provide extra funds for welfare and infrastructure. Perhaps, the biggest hurdle ahead of the President is to restore the faith of Brazilians in the country’s government, and unite a nation polarised by bigotry, misinformation and half-truths.