For months and really yearsfirst The 2022 Brazilian presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro it sowed doubts about Brazilian democracy and electoral institutions. On Sunday, supporters of the former right-wing president demonstrated the power of that message stormed the seats of government power in Brasilia.
The attack demonstrated the strength of the right-wing movement supported by Bolsonaro turn it back on it could outlast the man himself, even as Brazil’s democratic and judicial institutions responded quickly and aggressively to the threat.
At least 1,200 people were arrested for questioning in the aftermath of the riots, where mobs attacked the Supreme Court, Congress and the presidential palace of the capital. The supreme court suspended the governor of Brasiliaaccusing him of aiding and abetting violence, and a high justice promised to hold all those responsible for the riots accountable, Included financiers and public officials. Security forces removed tent cities set up by Bolsonaro supporters, who had been locked up for weeks after Bolsonaro lost Brazil’s presidential ballot to the leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, known as Lula.
Bolsonaro he never granted the election, but institutions and politicians, including Bolsonaro’s political allies, lined up to validate Lula’s victory. Lula was inaugurated, as planned, on January 1, promising to be a president for all Brazilians. Bolsonaro snuck off to Florida.
But on January 8, with Lula a week into his term, supporters loyal to Bolsonaro unleashed an attack on the country’s democratic symbols, the worst assault on democracy since Brazil emerged from a military dictatorship in years. 80s.
It was a revolt that would ultimately fail, at least when it came to reversing or influencing an election outcome. But it was nonetheless a very public show of force for a Bolsonarismo, and that may have been a victory in itself.
What does this say about the strength of Bolsonarism?
By the day the crowds swarmed, the political process had run its course. Lula was sworn in on January 1, the transition is complete and his government is in office. Bolsonaro had been without power for a week, doing random things like a Florida man. (On Monday, Bolsonaro was reportedly hospitalized for abdominal painpossibly related to a stab wound he received during the 2018 election.)
But this assault may have been less about the past election and more about the future of the right-wing movement in Brazil. Congress was in recess at the time, leaving the building nearly empty. Lula was far from the presidential palace. But the images of Bolsonaro supporters, dressed in yellow and green, scaling walls, breaking windows and swarming the seats of power, nonetheless showed a government under siege. “They created all the images they wanted, they knew they were going to get arrested – they wanted to create martyrs,” said Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, a professor in University College Dublin’s School of Geography who has studied the far right in Brazil.
Pinheiro-Machado said the narrative of their heroism is already taking root on social media channels such as Telegram and WhatsApp. Hundreds may have been arrested, but cracking down on the people is framed as an injustice by the powerful. “They were making history, they were making the revolution. This is their opinion,” added Pinheiro-Machado.
This is a powerful story that is taking root and an expression of outrage that goes beyond disappointment with an election result. Bolsonaro supporters seemed to be saying that whether or not their man is in power, they won’t walk away. “It’s not just ‘the election was stolen, we want our boy back there,'” said Andre Pagliarini, an assistant professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College and a fellow in the Washington Brazil office. “It’s ‘maybe democracy itself isn’t worth it if Lula and the Workers’ Party keep winning elections.’ And this is a bigger challenge than Bolsonaro ”.
Bolsonaro condemned violence, saying that peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy but invasion of buildings is not (although he also took a leftist dig). But his words may not matter much now. Bolsonaro has consolidated the right-wing movement, given it a platform in the highest seat of power, but he seems prepared and ready to go further. The strength of this movement will depend on many things, and there are already signs that Brazilian institutions are ready to face the challenge head on.
Brazil’s democratic institutions are so far surviving the test. But in Brazil, as elsewhere, this challenge is not over.
The response of Brazilian political leaders and institutions to the January 8 riots was united and strong. Such attacks will not be tolerated; authors, at all levels, will be held accountable.
All major Brazilian political figures condemned the riots. Lula, along with leaders of both branches of Brazil’s Congress and the Supreme Court, jointly issued a statement denouncing “terrorist acts.” Congressional solidarity is particularly notable, given that Bolsonaro’s party and other right-wing parties wield a lot of power within such bodies. Lula returned to Brasilia and met with leaders of those other branches of government in the aftermath of the attack. Congress is returning from halftime and may even launch an investigation. “I think the balance of power has been adjusted, in a sense, in a way that works for democracy,” said Nelson Rojas de Carvalho, an associate professor at the Universidade Federal Rural do Janeiro.
However, there are many outstanding issues surrounding these unrest, including the apparent lack of preparedness of the security forces for these unrest. There are also issues of complicity, especially since Bolsonaro supporters set up their tent city right outside the military barracks, which the current Justice Minister warned were “terrorism incubators.” Videos posted on social media were shown police standing by or chatting with protesters.
Security forces have since cleared the fields of Bolsonaro supporters. Lula declared a state of federal intervention in Brasilia until January 31, which allows federal authorities to temporarily replace state ones. The Supreme Court also reacted quickly, removal of the federal governor of Brasilia for its potential role in the riots. Hundreds were detained for questioning, in addition to those arrested at the site of the attacks. Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino he said Sunday that officials have identified those who paid for 40 buses to take Bolsonaro supporters to Brasilia, and are issuing arrests for them. “The first moves indicate that they are truly up to the task, that they will aggressively fight this challenge to democracy. Lula seems invigorated by it,” Pagliarini said. He added that there seemed to be a new willingness and enthusiasm to investigate this network, which, for obvious reasons, had little impact when Bolsonaro was in office.
That solidarity and unequivocalness is the best response of Brazilian democracy to its challenges. However, experts have stressed, there is a delicate balance to be struck – already some right-wingers are pointing to government exaggeration, such as the removal of Brazil’s governor – as a sign of Lula’s dictatorial and communist leanings. (Which, again, is pretty packed with people who just tried to overthrow democracy and are calling for the military to intervene). investigating and prosecuting these forces may be one of the most necessary tools in unraveling the anti-democracy movement.
Because the challenge of the far-right movement in Brazil will likely persist and continue to wreak havoc during Lula’s tenure and beyond. Smaller protests continued on Monday, with protesters blocking streets in São Paulo. The aftermath of January 8 sparks a contest between the anti-democratic pressures that Bolsonaro helped reignite and the democratic and institutional forces that are seeking to protect and preserve democracy, along with governing and delivering for the people in a time of uncertainty economy and difficulty.
In this way, January 8 of Brazil is like January 6 of the United States. This is not a single event, but an ongoing struggle. No election can overthrow those authoritarian impulses, just like a violent mob can’t overthrow an entire democracy. “We have these two worlds running together. This is how the world is structured today and ultimately, this will last for many years,” said Pinheiro-Machado.
Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro invade the National Congress in Brasilia on January 8. Sergio Lima/AFP via Getty Images