Brazilian leftists seek to emulate US Democrats’ unity to beat Bolsonaro

Brazilian leftists seek to emulate US Democrats’ unity to beat Bolsonaro

When glad tidings of Donald Trump’s undoing reached Flávio Dino’s 18th-century palace in north-eastern Brazil, he felt delight.

“Trump was such a toxic figure,” said the Communist party governor of Maranhão state, a leading light of the Brazilian left. “Trump’s defeat is a victory for humanity.”

For many Brazilian leftists, Joe Biden’s triumph has also provided a possible blueprint for how their far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro – who relishes his depiction as South America’s “tropical Trump” – might be vanquished when Brazil’s presidential elections come around in two years’ time.

“Trump’s defeat is a harbinger of Bolsonaro’s defeat,” claimed Alessandro Molon, a Brazilian Socialist party congressman.

Molon, the lower house leader of Brazil’s opposition, said Trump’s loss showed unequivocally that “authoritarianism, extremism and fascism can be defeated here in Brazil, just as they have been defeated in the US”.

The million-dollar question is: how?

Dino said the message from Biden’s success was clear: unity and moderation were essential if Brazil’s left wanted to win over voters who backed Bolsonaro in 2018.

“To combat rightwing extremism and contemporary, 21st-century fascism, you have to broaden your forces,” insisted Dino, one of the main defenders of a united front against Bolsonaro at the next election involving politicians and voters from left and centre-right.

Dino contrasted Biden’s win with Labour’s 2019 meltdown against another pro-Trump populist, Boris Johnson.

“Corbyn took a more leftwing position, undoubtedly with a more progressive programme, but faced electoral difficulties,” he said diplomatically. “Biden took a more centrist stance, secured the support of the left, and managed to win. When you look at these two situations … what comes across is that when you expand, you achieve better results.”

Dino claimed recent events in Bolivia, where the softly spoken technocrat Luis Arce helped the left regain power, and Chile, where a huge majority voted to ditch its Pinochet-era constitution, reinforced the value of pragmatic inclusiveness.

“That’s the key message we must take from the last two years and apply to the next two: the need for the left to be as united as possible and to put forward a political programme that can attract other sectors of politics and, above all, society.”

Dino is not alone in making such arguments.

Molon urged Brazil’s left, which was buoyed by some positive results in Sunday’s municipal elections, to replicate the temporary Democratic party truce that saw progressives such as Bernie Sanders back Biden. “We’ve got to make Trump a one-term president,” Sanders declared in April as he endorsed his centrist rival.

That armistice is now over, with centrists and progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sparring over why the party’s win was not more resounding. But Molon said ideological differences could not obstruct a more urgent objective: denying Brazil’s far-right president a second term. “It’s already enough to have let a foolish, reckless, unhinged man govern Brazil for four years. We can’t let our mistakes hand him another four.

“We need to follow the same logic [as the Democrats] … What was done in the United States needs to be done here too,” Molon said.

One of the most influential figures of the Brazilian left, the former Workers’ party (PT) president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, seemed to endorse that message last week.

“[Brazil] doesn’t need a grotesque figure like Bolsonaro governing our country,” Lula told supporters, adding: “I can assure you that if it’s up to the PT and me, we’ll have an alliance of the entire left.”

But many observers doubt PT chiefs will want to relinquish their longstanding leadership role and allow a rival party’s candidate to spearhead the 2022 campaign against Bolsonaro.

The PT remains the largest of Brazil’s seven left or centre-left parties, but it has also become a bogeyman which many voters blame for one of the worst recessions and greatest corruption scandals in Brazilian history.

“It wasn’t Bolsonaro who won the [2018] election. It was the PT that lost it. Lots of people voted for Bolsonaro just to defeat the PT,” Molon claimed.

Molon, who quit Lula’s party in 2015, urged former colleagues to show the same “magnanimity” Sanders showed in supporting Biden.

“It’s time to put the country first, and to save Brazil by allowing another … leader to emerge to unite the progressive forces of the opposition and defeat Bolsonarismo,” he said.

“This doesn’t mean it needs to be a centrist candidate – it could be a progressive, but … it can’t be someone who frightens [voters] or has a high level of rejection, either because of themselves or their party,” Molon added, in a clear reference to Lula and the PT.

Thomas Traumann, a political commentator, agreed Brazil’s left could learn from the Democrats’ unity and courage in agreeing: “OK, let’s get rid of Trump and then see what we do.”

But self-interest and infighting left him pessimistic they would behave similarly – let alone attract politicians and voters from the centre-right. “It’s basic maths: to beat Bolsonaro you’re going to need the support of people who voted Bolsonaro,” Traumann said.

Dino urged Bolsonaro’s rivals to collaborate, even without absolute ideological “convergence”, and warned Brazil would pay an “unimaginable price” if they did not.

“Brazil’s overseas reputation and soft power will be annihilated. The environment will suffer irreversible damage.

“That’s why we have to take our mission of defeating him so seriously. We have to do everything we can to stop Bolsonaro winning in 2022.”

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