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Brazil, The Next Election With Democracy Itself At Stake

Brazilians head to the polls this week in a runoff between leftist Lula and the far-right Bolsonaro. The elections will have far-reaching consequences for Latin America, and perhaps even the Western world.

Brazil, The Next Election With Democracy Itself At Stake

At a Bolsonaro supporters rally in Sao Paulo

Rosendo Fraga

BUENOS AIRES — The outcome of Brazil's presidential election on Sunday will of course have a major impact in the region: Brazil has by far the largest population in Latin America, and trails only the United States in the Western hemisphere. But the reverberations will also be felt around the world, and not only for the country's size.

A victory for the socialist candidate Luis Inácio Lula da Silva will confirm the trend in Latin America of the "progressive" Left's return to the countries it governed in the first decade of the 21st century. But another term for the sitting president, the radical right-winger Jair Bolsonaro, may kill off this revival and strengthen the right's electoral prospects across the region. In recent elections in Peru, Colombia and Chile, conservative candidates made it to hard-fought runoffs against their leftist rivals.

For Argentine politics, the consequences are clear. Another Lula presidency would strengthen the radical Left represented by the Vice President Cristina Kirchner and her followers. This element was unflinching in its support for Lula through his jail term, and not just for ideological reasons.

Global rise of far-right politics

This is a time of crisis for traditional parties in the Western world, with voters cheering the radical right's eruption into mainstream politics. Keiko Fujimori in Peru, José Antonio Kast in Chile, Rodolfo Hernández in Colombia and Bolsonaro in Brazil are the equivalents of Georgia Meloni in Italy, Marine le Pen in France or the last U.S. President Donald Trump.

When is a regime conservative and when is it "post-fascist"?

There may be conceptual debates on whether or not these politicians are conservative, very conservative, radicals or fascists. In Meloni's case, the Bologna University academic Gianfranco Pasquino says she is turning out to be very conservative but is no fascist. Bolsonaro is subject to similar debates in Brazil.

But when is a regime conservative and when is it "post-fascist"? The independence of the judiciary may be a key indicator. Under conservative governments, it exists and is real, but it begins to falter under fascist governments. It is the signal observers seek out in the context of authoritarian Latin American states, though it has become an unexpected point of conflict inside the European Union in Poland and Hungary.

At a debate between Bolsonaro and Lula in Sao Paulo before the second round the elections

Leco Viana/TheNEWS2/ZUMA

A crisis of traditional political structures

In the United States, paradoxically, without juridical reforms, Trump took control of the judiciary through a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. He did that by, de facto, reducing the number of senators needed to agree on Supreme Court designations, from a super majority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. In so doing, he modified a norm that had prevented the Democratic President Barack Obama from filling the empty seats at the Court. Trump caused a decisive change in the balance of institutional powers.

It is surprising that the Democrats did not actively resist a move that has turned the court into a Trump ally. The Nov. 8 elections in the US may be another battle in the wider fight for power between conservatives and liberals in the West.

And they broadly coincide with Brazil's presidential election. It seems that a range of socio-political trends are happening in several regions simultaneously: the crisis of traditional political structures, the replacement of technical competence with polarization, public dissatisfaction with democratic institutions, and the resurgence of nationalism.

Bolsonaro's re-election would come a month after Meloni's election in Italy, a key EU state and G7 member, and 10 days before midterm elections in the United States. The three results will have consequences that go well beyond their respective countries.

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