Global Agenda

Bolsonaro supporters attack Brazilian congress: causes and consequences

Pavol Beblavý

On 8 January 2023, thousands of right-wing demonstrators broke through police barriers and forcibly entered the Brazilian Congress building, the presidential palace, and the Supreme Court of Justice in the capital Brasília. The demonstrators caused extensive damage to the buildings and took several precious objects with them. After several hours, Brazilian security forces forcibly cleared the buildings of demonstrators. The military subsequently arrested approximately 1 500 demonstrators and the federal government, with the approval of Congress, began to administer the Federal District of the capital Brasília directly on a temporary basis.

In the October 2022 Brazilian presidential elections, the left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva managed to defeat the controversial right-wing President Jair Massias Bolsonaro by a margin of less than two percent. Bolsonaro ruled the country for one term and became particularly famous for spreading conspiracies or undermining democratic institutions. However, he managed to build up a loyal core of voters who have been protesting against Lula de Silva’s victory since the first results were announced. The situation has not been improved by Bolsonaro, who repeatedly suggested before the elections that he could only lose the elections if they were rigged. After the elections, although he announced that he intended to submit to the constitution, he did not officially recognize the victory of his opponent. He did, however, ask his supporters not to resort to violence and subsequently flew to Florida in the US.

Bolsonaro’s supporters began political agitation immediately after he lost the election. The intention was to have the official election results annulled and to reinstate Bolsonaro as President. Their movement was based on the conspiracy theory that the results of the presidential elections were falsified by their opponents and that the real winner of the elections was not Lula de Silva, but Bolsonaro. Peaceful demonstrations gradually turned into road blockades. The most ambitious plan of Bolsonaro’s henchmen consisted of mass camping outside the Brazilian General Staff building in order to force the army to launch a coup against Lula. However, the army remained neutral and Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed the Brazilian congress.

The course of the elections, the electoral disputes, and the violent assault on the congress building in January are in many ways reminiscent of the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters on 6 January 2021. In both cases, radical supporters of the failed right-wing candidate who had served as president denied the official results of the elections, which they described as rigged. Consequently, they resorted to attacking the Congress building after legal action failed. In both cases, this attack led to the building being penetrated but did not in any way prevent the new President from taking office.

The attack on Brazil’s democratic institutions was condemned by the majority of Brazilian, Latin American, and Western leaders. The defeat of the right-wing candidate Bolsonaro in Brazil and the rise of Lula is part of a broader trend where Latin American political orientation is once again shifting to the left. Incumbent leftist presidents in the region, such as Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, will be joined by Luis Arce in Bolivia in 2020, and by the new president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, in 2021. The year 2022 saw an even more powerful wave of new left-wing governments: the Lula government in Brazil, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Xiomara Castro in Honduras, and Gabriel Boric in Chile. The colossal failure of the coup attempt in Brazil and the multilateral condemnation of this act shows that the so-called “pink wave” of left-wing governments in Latin America will not end so soon. At the same time, it should be noted that, despite their electoral successes, all the new left-wing governments have serious problems with popular support and one government (Pedro Castillo, Peru) has already managed to fall apart. In addition, the new Brazilian President will face a number of challenges, in addition to a divided society, which is largely a legacy of the Bolsonaro era. These are in particular, the instability of the political situation, the weakened functionality of state institutions, and the rise in popularity of undemocratic ideas among the population.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons – Marcelo Camargo / Agência Brasil

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