What Bolsonaro’s loss reveals about the limits of populism

What Bolsonaro’s loss reveals about the limits of populism

Yascha Mounk writes:

As Sunday’s high-stakes runoff election for the presidency between Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right incumbent, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his left-wing challenger, approached, Brazilian political analysts kept returning to two big questions. The first was simply, “Who will win?” The second was more ominous: “Will the incumbent leave office if he loses?”

The answer to the first question came late on Sunday night. Lula clearly, if narrowly, defeated Bolsonaro, with 51 to 49 percent of the vote.

All of the attention then shifted to the second question. Throughout his time in office, Bolsonaro had given the army a more political role, praising the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and appointing generals to senior positions in his administration. In the past months, he’d lambasted the country’s voting system, claiming that it was rigged. Much seemed to indicate that he might follow the lead of Donald Trump and try to stay in power despite losing the election.

Lula gave a victory speech. Bolsonaro kept his silence. The Supreme Court called on him to acknowledge the outcome of the election. Bolsonaro kept his silence. Some of his own allies admitted defeat. Bolsonaro kept his silence. The suspense finally came to an end on Tuesday afternoon. Looking deflated, Bolsonaro appeared before the press at his official residence in Brasília, the country’s capital. Flanked by aides, he read a terse statement. “I’ve always been labeled antidemocratic, but unlike my accusers, I’ve always played by the rules,” he said. “As president and as a citizen, I’ll continue to follow our constitution.” Within two minutes, the usually attention-hungry president was out of sight.

Although Bolsonaro stopped short of conceding defeat or congratulating Lula, the implication was clear. Unlike Trump, he would not attempt to stay in power. His chief of staff soon confirmed that “President Bolsonaro has authorized me … to start the transition process.” [Continue reading…]

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