The diminishing spirit of democracy - GulfToday

The diminishing spirit of democracy


Jair Bolsonaro

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro left for Orlando in Florida in the United States, and refused to attend the inauguration of his successor Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and pass on the presidential sash. It is quite like former United States president Donald Trump’s refusal to attend the inaugural of his successor Joe Biden in January 2021. It can be said that both Bolsonaro and Trump represent the conservative end of the political spectrum, and while Bolsonaro wss defeated by leftish Lula da Silva, Trump was defeated by Biden, a Democrat, who is not exactly a liberal in the eyes of the American liberals. It is natural that in a democracy, neither conservatives nor liberals and leftists would be in power forever. They will win sometimes, and they will lose at other times.

But whatever the personal hurt, even politicians have feelings and it is but natural that while they are elated by victory, they will be downcast by defeat. But both Bolsonaro and Trump seemed to have violated the spirit of democracy by not accepting their defeat in the right spirit. Trump still believes that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, while Bolsonaro has been expressing doubts about the fairness of the democratic system in Brazil. Trump’s followers created riot on January 6, 2021 by attacking the Capitol, and Trump has not really distanced himself from the rioters. Bolsonaro condemned the sporadic episodes of violence that erupted after his defeat, and said unequivocally that people who indulged in violence are not conservative.

Observers will argue that Brazil and the United States are different kinds of democracy in qualitative terms because the US has earned itself the reputation of the oldest liberal democracy, while Brazil’s democratic record is not as shining as that of the US. But the two countries in the Western hemisphere represent the models of democracy that have become standard models.

At the moment, the victory of Lula da Silva shows that Brazilians know when to reject a conservative president, but conservatives remain a strong force in the country’s politics. Even the election results showed that though Bolsonaro lost the presidential contest, the conservatives have retained their hold in the legislature, and Lula would have to contend with their presence. It is indeed an ideal situation where groups with opposing ideologies serve as a check on the excesses of the other side.

It would however be wrong to assume that in a democracy only the liberals and leftists will win and the conservatives do not stand a chance. It does appear that people prefer conservatives as much as they do the liberals and the leftists. Political commentators have the tendency, depending on their own political preferences, to hail the victory of one side or the other.

The people and the voters seem to judge political ideologies on the basis of the performance of the parties in power. And it seems that democracy is a fair system when people’s preferences are reflected in an electoral verdict.

The apprehension however remains that it is possible for strong leaders, either on the left or the right, to hijack democracy and indulge in dangerous populism. Trump’s populism seems to be quite strong in the US and that could damage the quality of American democracy. In some ways, the tussle between the right and the left is evenly balanced and there is a certain democratic equilibrium.

Most middle of the road Americans are not happy with the liberal trends in their society, and are showing a greater preference for conservative values. It would be difficult to judge and condemn the growing conservatism in America or what has been called ‘the pink flavour’ in Brazil and in the rest of Latin America.

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