No one knows what the outcome of Brazil’s upcoming election will be: who is set to win and especially who will make it to the probable second ballot. Polls do indicate some rough estimates but everything can still change. This is the shadow that is being cast forward in time: uncertainty, unpredictability, and thus danger. Meanwhile, the country’s crisis, which has been serious for years, is getting worse.
In order to understand the crisis and looming danger, two dimensions need to be considered. The first is political and institutional. Ever since its inception, but even more since the return of democracy in 1985, Brazil has had an unwieldy political system, which is fragmented into a multitude of political parties and divided by territorial faults. Although this makes it cumbersome, dull and inefficient, up to now the centripetal force of two parties has managed to prevail: the Workers' Party (PT) on one side and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) on the other. Their competition has pushed the majority of the electorate towards the centre, reinforcing the institutions and consolidating democracy. Today, this does not hold true anymore; the banks have broken, the Brazilian electorate is on leave and centripetal forces risk to cause the system implode.
The second dimension is economic. Brazil remains the usual “idol with feet of clay”: the country’s miracle has not lasted long, is not comparable to the one of Asian countries and collapsed like a house of cards as soon as the commodities boom ended; an evident sign of its scarce sustainability. The crash has had deep consequences for the country: deep recession, an exponentially growing fiscal deficit , inflation dangerously on the rise. The causes are known to everyone, the tares are regressive: protectionism, scarce productivity, high informality, weak capital market, severe inequalities, low quality public services, and so on. Like many Latin-American economies, the Brazilian one is trapped in a thousand corporate cages. The PT governments have not attacked them to not discontent their electorate: this way, with time, they have slid towards typical populist recipes, pumping out of proportion government spending. The legacy is tough, not to say terrible. However, if such inheritance, seasoned with huge embezzlement scandals, is among the major causes of the implosion of the political system, the remedy rests on the solution of the political crisis; the economic future depends now more than ever on the political future.
This takes us back to the starting point: which political scenarios are opening up on the Brazilian horizon? The first one, most feared and popular today, is the “Venezuelan” scenario: in the grip of the demons of ideological polarisation, religious millenarianism and political populism, Brazilians will send to the second ballot the most extreme forces. These are the authoritarian and vulgar nationalism of Jair Bolsonaro and the PT’s pauperist victimhood, orphan of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the great leader who was imprisoned and went back to the radical glories of the past. In this case, reciprocal hatred would be the best weapon for both and would make a clean state of any more moderate alternative. Launched on such slope, Brazil would run towards the dissolution of its institutional framework and the subjugation of the economy to the political imperatives of the government on duty: just like in Venezuela. Many Brazilians sadly say democracy is in danger. Can we blame them?
Such a suggestive and frightening scenario, however, is not the only possible scenario. It might not even be the most probable. At the ballot, an extreme candidate might stand with a more moderate one: for example Ciro Gomes or Marina Silva or Geraldo Alckmin, all very different but united by their strict loyalty to the democratic system; and it is around such candidate that the constitutional pole of democracy against the populist pole might clot. Maybe at the end, the former might make it. What’s more: during the electoral campaign, the PT itself might tone down its hard-line in order to open up to alliances and compromises, hoping to expand the precarious consensus basis, which has been eroded by the scandals that have takenplace.
This last scenario can be called advisedly the “Brazilian” scenario. In fact, what prevails in Brazil’s history are long periods of stability between complete but not traumatic breakups. Not that history is destined to repeat itself, but it rarely completely reverses. Despite everything, it is clear that the institutions, ruling class and Brazilian public opinion are much more solid and pluralist than how they were in Venezuela when they opened up the doors to chavism. If that were the case, Brazil would have the opportunity and time to lick its wounds and reflect on the causes of the nightmare that keeps it awake at night. At that point, the real danger will be that rather than attacking the causes the political class will prefer to return to float, dragging along the same old problems. In that case, it would be just a matter of time for it to return to look out on the abyss.
Translation from the original version by Elena Corradi, ISPI