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In Brazil’s election, democracy and the future of our planet are on the ballot

AP Photo/Eraldo Peres
A demonstrator dressed in the colors of the Brazilian flag performs in front of a street vendor’s towels for sale featuring Brazilian presidential candidates, current President Jair Bolsonaro, center, and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Nearly a dozen candidates are running in Brazil’s presidential election but only two stand a chance of reaching a runoff: former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

As Brazil elects a new president, congress and state officials today, the stakes for the country, the region and indeed the planet could not be higher.  

Brazil’s democratic journey resumed in the 1980s, and the country has traveled admirably far ever since. Despite the imposing and sometimes debilitating legacy of the military dictatorship, the country has built a robust and resilient democratic system, with strong and innovative institutions and a vibrant party system. It introduced and reinforced checks and balances and nurtured a fiercely independent judiciary and electoral court system. It has lifted millions out of poverty within the span of just two decades. And it has built a tried and tested voting system that is of the highest standards. In the process, Brazil has shown that democracy can promote profound, peaceful social and economic change. 

Brazil now will need all that strength and resilience, as it grapples with what Anne Applebaum calls the seductive lure of authoritarianism. Radical political polarization within Brazil, put into the context of growing attacks on democratic systems worldwide, makes this election particularly important. 

In Brazil, the anti-democratic playbook is all too familiar and chilling: Attempts to undermine the legitimacy and integrity of the voting system, and threatened refusal to accept election results; deliberate spreading of mis- and disinformation; attacks on judicial independence; murder of those standing up to fight environmental degradation; assault on press freedom, ad hominem attacks on and threats against journalists; attacks on human and indigenous rights; misogynistic and anti-LGBTQI comments by leading political figures; increasing political violence instigated with malicious intent. The risk of democratic erosion and threats to public order are very real.

We have great faith in the ability of the Brazilian people to continue charting a democratic course for their country. They are already bravely fighting back against the threats to their democratic system. Ordinary Brazilians are standing up to protect their institutions. Close to a million Brazilians have already signed a manifesto that the country’s democracy is facing serious danger, including well-known artists, businesspeople, jurists, and civil society representatives. Brazilians from all walks of life across the country will soon show up to execute their solemn democratic duty and operate the polling stations. They understand that democratic stability holds the key to economic prosperity. 

The international community has a special responsibility in lending its support to the Brazilian people in their hour of need. We need to show solidarity with the citizens and democratic institutions of Brazil to help consolidate democratic gains, preserve public order, fight poverty and disenfranchisement, and open new and innovative political spaces in their country. We also need to make it clear that disrespect for democratic institutions and electoral integrity will have grave consequences and could jeopardize Brazil’s international standing and economic development — that a democratic rupture would severely threaten the Brazilian economy and needed investment from Brazilian business and investors, as well as from abroad. 

First and foremost, we owe it to the Brazilian people to swiftly recognize the election results to leave no space for sowing uncertainty and instability. 

We are encouraged by the deep engagement by the U.S. administration and the European institutions and applaud members of the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament for their commitment to support the democratic process in Brazil. It is vitally important that governments in the U.S. and Europe continue to closely monitor the elections in Brazil and engage with key actors on the ground to ensure a smooth democratic process.  

Looking beyond the elections, it will be essential for Brazilians, with the support of the international community, to find a way to re-establish trust in the political system and foster civic engagement beyond electoral cycles, safeguard a welcoming environment for a vibrant civil society, and further strengthening institutional capabilities to manage the challenges of disinformation. 

Brazil is key to resolving many of the common challenges humanity faces, such as climate change and environmental degradation. Thus, we need to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Brazilian leadership past the elections to ensure that Brazil lives up to its enormous potential to contribute to global peace and security and sustainable development. To that end and contingent on preserving democratic stability, we encourage decisive steps be taken to accept Brazil into the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and support a robust transatlantic political, economic and military-to-military dialogue with the next Brazilian administration on global and regional issues.   

Brazil has so much to offer to its people and to the world. At this inflection point we call upon the international community to show solidarity with the Brazilian people as they exercise their democratic rights. 

Javier Solana, former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and former NATO Secretary General, ispresident of EsadeGeo – Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. 

Thomas Shannon, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, is a visiting professor at Princeton University and chairman of the board of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Tags Authoritarianism Brazil Brazilian general election Brazilian people Democracy election denialism

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