This article is a follow-up to João Victor Black’s previous article on Brazilian politics.
On November 21, a curious event unfolded inside a luxurious hotel in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. With the bold objective of creating “not just a new party, but the greatest party in Brazilian history,” President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled his plan to form a political party that promises to institutionalize the values he and his supporters promote, and which have characterized his first eleven months in office. That afternoon, the ‘Alliance for Brazil’ was born.
For the president, joining the once-small Social Liberal Party (the PSL) a few months before the 2018 election meant he would be able to control its decision-making. For a while, he did, prompting the once ‘socially-liberal’ party to embrace social conservatism. After a turbulent last few months, it is now clear that the Bolsonaro clan did not expect the kind of dissent that they were faced with, which provoked their dramatic departure from the PSL. As in intra-party relations, deliberation and consensus should be the cornerstone of the relationship between the different branches of the government in a democracy. If the president circumvents these processes at a party level, what is to say that he will not do the same when Congress or the courts inevitably reject some parts of his policy agenda? We should worry that, when faced with opposition at the governmental level, the president will resort to the same sort of authoritarianism that has shaped his relationship with his former party.
At first glance, the November 21 event seemed like a typical Bolsonaro rally, but it is bound to shape Brazilian politics and society for years to come. The Brazilian right is currently going through a sort of ‘ideological purge,’ in which politicians and parties who have traditionally considered themselves right-wing, but are not loyal to president Bolsonaro, are vilified and put to the sidelines. As such, Brazil’s new right has adopted an extremely personalistic character, with the president and his clan at the center of the stage. The creation of the Alliance for Brazil is the latest attempt to consolidate Bolsonarism as the predominant ideology on this side of the political spectrum.
Although individual politicians and movements have, at times, displayed undemocratic and nationalistic tendencies, none of the current 35 registered parties are overtly far-right organizations. With the creation of the Alliance for Brazil, Bolsonaro promises to change that. For starters, the party’s name is a nod to the National Renewal Alliance – the official party of the right-wing military dictatorship that governed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. In fact, Bolsonaro is the first head of state to praise the dictatorship openly. Not even Jose Sarney, Brazil’s first civilian president post-dictatorship who was also a supporter of the regime, did such a thing. Furthermore, during the announcement of the party’s creation on November 21, Bolsonaro laid out goals that would shock the moderate voter: to defend religious principles, preserve family values, implement economic ultra-neoliberalism, and launch a frontal opposition to any gun-control legislation.
Jair Bolsonaro and the Alliance for Brazil are not the first right-wing movements to appear in the country. Throughout the 20th century, the military consolidated itself as a powerful right-wing force in Brazil, playing the essential role of political mediator and balancer within Brazilian society. After the end of the dictatorship, the 1988 constitution established clear boundaries to military influence, handing political control to civilians and limiting the military’s role in society. Bolsonaro has diverged from this prerogative through an emboldening narrative and the placement of generals within his cabinet. As such, he has relied on a kind of extremism that is unprecedented in Brazilian democracy post-1985 and threatens to derail the progress the country has made.
The creation of this new party is President Bolsonaro’s latest effort to shift the political game in his favor. He seeks to create a genuine and robust opposition, in every aspect, to the Workers’ Party and former-President Lula – his archnemesis. Like other far-right movements across the globe, Bolsonaro’s new party relies heavily on Brazilian nationalism and military authoritarianism. Political scientists subdivide the far-right movement into two camps: extreme right – parties that outright question and disregard democracy, and radical right – a ‘softer’ group that mostly subscribes to the democratic playbook but questions some of its aspects .
Although the president has so far respected established conventions, he continues to test the boundaries of democracy. Bolsonaro not only frequently tries to mobilize his base in his support, but also to rally them against institutions. With him as the head of the executive, democracy is not safe. Thus, it is crucial that we identify Jair Bolsonaro and his new party as what they truly are: far-right.