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Poverty and acute social inequality are causes of indifference to democracy, says political scientist

Poverty and acute social inequality are causes of indifference to democracy, says political scientist

The latest in the FAPESP 60 Years lecture series featured an assessment of the current social and political conditions in Brazil by Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, a professor at the University of São Paulo. The event focused on the erosion of liberal democracy. Oscar Vilhena, Dean of Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s São Paulo Law School, also took part (Praça dos Três Poderes in Brasília; credit: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Agência Brasil)

Published on 07/04/2022

By José Tadeu Arantes  |  Agência FAPESP – With a presidential election only about three months away, preserving the rules of the game in Brazil has become a major motivation for people who understand the importance of democracy to human coexistence. The eleventh event in the FAPESP 60 Years lecture series featured a discussion of the threats to democracy by two leading political scientists: Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, Senior Researcher at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), a São Paulo think tank, and retired professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP); and Oscar Vilhena, Dean of Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s São Paulo Law School (FGV-Direito-SP).

Tavares de Almeida began her lecture by discussing the erosion of liberal democracy since the late 1990s, and the emergence of authoritarian regimes in several countries. “Brazil faces a double whammy, in that there are threats from both the federal government and the attitudes present in the population,” she said. Brazilian voters elected a government “that has no commitment to the democratic system and its rules” and repeatedly resorts to “a strategy of confrontation based on permanent provocation, identification with the armed forces, and premeditated creation of chaos”.

At the same time, she went on, a large part of the population has lost faith in democracy. In a poll conducted in 2018 by Latinobarómetro, a non-governmental organization that carries out public opinion surveys, only 34% of Brazilians interviewed answered “Yes” to the question “Is democracy always preferable?” The percentage was well below the Latin American average. 

“A large proportion feels that it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “This will always be a latent threat to democratic stability, affording a potential base for the far-right and authoritarian projects.”

Asked about the reasons for this indifference, Tavares de Almeida cited poverty and the acute inequality prevailing in Brazilian society.

Focusing on the attitudes of the Brazilian government and the response of the nation’s institutions, Vilhena noted the “profound constitutional stress” experienced for over a decade, and especially the surge of mass demonstrations in 2013 to protest about unfulfilled promises. “It was in this context that Bolsonaro, a president openly hostile to democracy, was elected in 2018,” he said.

Bolsonaro frequently opts for what Vilhena called “infralegal acts”. 

“He issues decrees and appoints government officials in such a way as to neutralize agencies with constitutional powers to protect the environment or Indigenous communities, for example,” Vilhena said. “He has consistently attacked the progressive features of the 1988 Constitution.” 

More than 130 impeachment motions have been submitted by members of Congress, but only the Speaker of the House, an ally of Bolsonaro, can trigger the impeachment process. “This has led to the judicialization of Brazilian politics, with the Federal Supreme Court playing an extremely active role to rein in the President.”

The event was the eleventh in the FAPESP 60 Years Lectures series and was introduced by Ronaldo Aloise Pilli, Vice President of FAPESP. He stressed the importance of democratic mechanisms to prevent “adventurers from flirting with the seizure of power or actually seizing it”. The discussion was moderated by Marta Arretche, a member of FAPESP’s Adjunct Panel on Human and Social Sciences.

A recording of the event is at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EJfDHtSjLY

Recordings of the previous events in the series are at: 60anos.fapesp.br/conferencias.  

Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/39051