In recent years, Brazilian politics can be summarized in two groups of people. The first, the so-called "good citizens”, who aim to protect not only their family, but also their country. The second, those who deny any participation of their party of choice in a corruption scheme in what was, to many, the largest in Latin America. The difference between them is, even though looking complex at first glance, is incredibly simple: one is part of the extreme-left, and the other to the far right. Both, however, have become blind – and deaf – to their political surroundings. And here, dear reader, I leave some food for thought. Being in an environment where the two biggest parties abhor the existence of their competitor, where will democracy go? One that, it seems, is increasingly tolerant of everything? I think history can provide us with some cases to think about. But first, an introduction to democracy.
Brazilian democracy, like any other, is formed by three powers: Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary, who live in harmony due to the balance of powers (or theory of checks and balances) – an idea by the philosopher Montesquieu in 1748. Power then would no longer be concentrated in the hands of a single individual, but in three different bodies that supervise each other to prevent them from acting in an unconstitutional and tyrannical way, thus being one of the vital pillars of the democratic system. Therefore, given this extremely important role, acting unethically towards them constitutes an attack on the most basic principle of our system. If a president, chief of the executive, tries to change the course of judicial and/or legislative decisions, he is - therefore - acting in an undemocratic and unconstitutional manner.
Franklin D. Roosevelt tried – and failed – to add more seats to the judiciary. In the United States, as in Brazil, the Judiciary does not have a fixed mandate. The difference, however, is that the position is for life in America. Knowing this, during the period of the New Deal – a plan that aimed to help the American population after an economic crisis – the former president proposed a bill that aimed to add six more seats in the court in 1937, something that would give him a big advantage. By adding more members to the Supreme Court, FDR wanted to increase his cycle of influence in the Judiciary, and thus meet less resistance from the body. Fortunately, the plan was denied, not even reaching Congress.
Bolsonaro, if elected, wants to do the same. In an interview for the “Pilhado” podcast, then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro mentioned that he is considering increasing the number of STF ministers from 11 to 16, leaving him with a large number of allies in the court as two other current ministers, André Mendonça and Nunes Marques, were nominated by him. Bolsonaro also said that he would only change his mind if the Supreme Court “lowers the temperature a little.” For this to be applied, two rounds of voting must take place in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and considering that 20 of the 27 senators elected this year are Bolsonaristas, we can have a brief idea of the possible result of a vote of this level. If done, this will not only give Bolsonaro a simple advantage, but the power of choice in a government body that is not his. Unlike FDR, Bolsonaro does have a great opportunity to achieve this dream.
And so what? Where does this take us? Well, let's take it easy. In a society as polarized as ours, such polarization creates certain difficulties for a democratic system to flourish. Polarization, in theory, is part of a democratic system. Its excess, however, is not. As USP professor Antônio Euzébios Filho put it in an interview in 2018, a polarized society generates confrontations and irrational behavior as both groups begin to participate in a discussion marked by hatred and “by the attempt to annul the other.” Other renowned international researchers such as Mettler, Lieberman, Kleinfeld, and Levitsky also discuss this phenomenon. So, if Bolsonaro formally proposes an amendment of this type, and it passes to the voting process, what guarantee do we have that it will not be approved and will not threaten Brazilian democracy? Given that the two main Brazilian political parties hate each other, the answer, for me, is clear.
Iuri M. Piovezan is a graduate student at Villanova University studying Political Science. He has also received a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies from Temple University in 2022.