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Brazilian Democracy on the Brink

After years of corruption scandals, economic malaise, and deepening political polarization, Brazilians have lost faith in the promise of democracy, and could soon elect a dangerous authoritarian to the presidency. Before going to the polls on October 7, Brazilians should understand exactly what a vote for Jair Bolsonaro would mean for the future of their country.

RIO DE JANEIRO – With Brazil’s presidential and state elections just days away, the country’s citizens are frustrated, disillusioned, and angry. Many are taking to the streets, disgusted by years of cynical politics, breathtaking corruption, economic stagnation, and obscene levels of crime. Although roughly 85% of Brazil’s 147 million voters agree that the country is heading in the wrong direction, they are more polarized than ever, both online and offline. These deepening divisions threaten to squeeze the life out of democracy in South America’s largest country.

Not since the restoration of democracy in 1985 has a Brazilian election been so contentious and unpredictable. At stake is the presidency, but also positions for 27 state governors, 54 senators and nearly 1,600 elected officials. Although 69% of Brazilians have faith in democracy, more than half admit they would “go along” with a non-democratic government so long as it “solved problems.” Despite efforts by a new generation of young leaders working to restore faith in democracy, Brazilians are ranked as the least trusting and most pessimistic people in Latin America today. And now, the rise of digital propaganda and fake news is making a bad situation much worse.

Still, the suffocation of Brazilian democracy is not inevitable. While hard to imagine at the moment, its revival will require a combination of foresight, self-awareness, humility, and the courage to confront seemingly insurmountable class and racial divisions, and even rifts within families.