A Grand National Agreement 2.0?

To prevent Lula’s inevitable-looking return to the presidency, the idea to take not him, but his opponent out of the race, may now be the contingency plan of Brazils oligarchy: “Bolsonaro’s barring, at this moment, is the best move that elites, liberals and the third way can think of”, argues Historian and political analyst Fernando Horta. Such a move would echo the so-called “Grand National Agreement” of 2016.

By Fernando Horta

For the first time since the infamous interview at the end of the 2018 election, given by Rosa Weber and Carmen Lúcia, as president and vice president of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), there is open talk about the barring of Bolsonaro’s ticket.

In Brasília, it is said that more than opinion polls which constantly reaffirm the real possibility of a Lula victory in the first round, the question of being barred from running is what has really provoked the fascist’s hysteria.

Yesterday, in a diversionary maneuver, the Supreme Court (STF) declared that it was indeed “the polls” that were causing Jair’s tantrums. It turns out that there is a real possibility of barring the re-election bid of the candidate who is second in the polls.

How to interpret this possibility? Would it be good or bad for the left? And for democracy? And for the country?

Of course, you can always talk from the point of view of the militant and the fan. One who is only responsible for his dreams and desires. It is very normal, in the current situation, to want the worst for an incompetent genocidist who has driven the country to starvation again. But the difference between analysis, hunch and desire is how you select the data, the variables, and what you do with them. My wish as a Brazilian is for Jair Bolsonaro to  spend the next 3 months in the bathroom, with stomach aches and intermittent diarrhea. As a historian and analyst, however, I need to point out the danger of the movement to impeach the Bolsonaro ticket before the 2022 elections.

In the first place, it seems to me very possible that this is the liberal’s coup. Without any possibility of victory or even importance in the elections, Brazilian elites and liberals are working overtime in these elections. In the current situation, neither third-way candidates Simone Tebet or Ciro Gomes have any chance in these elections, and this is an uncomfortable position.

In this scenario, the dream of liberals and elites would be an election without Lula and without Bolsonaro.

The cost of such a maneuver, however, would be immense. Furthermore, there would be no legitimacy whatsoever in an election in which the TWO main candidates have been removed.

If you can’t take both out, it seems clear to me that the second best scenario for liberals would be to take one of them. A scenario that was already in force until the Supreme Court restored Lula’s political rights. Lula was still the preferred candidate to be “withdrawn” two years ago. It so happens that through strategic maneuvers, President Lula has constantly increased his political capital. Whether because of his European tour, with the look of a statesman, or because of his approximations with Alckmin and the “broad front”, the truth is that Lula has been shielding himself, increasing the cost of any political-electoral action against him.

At the same time, Bolsonaro melts down daily. Not that this hasn’t been happening since 2018 (and it would have happened at the election if it weren’t for the infamous stabbing), but in recent years, Bolsonaro no longer has the goodwill of the elites and the media. The protective mattress that the fascist enjoyed between 2018 and 2020 fell apart, and Bolsonaro pays the costs for every idiocy, every act of violence and every incompetence of his management. The latest polls indicate this, with the fascist associated with “corruption” and “laziness” and restricted to his most radical supporters and those nostalgic for the dictatorship.

In the impossibility of withdrawing Lula from the election, the liberals organize themselves to withdraw Bolsonaro. This movement has two true premises: on the one hand, to continue the stable situation that we have (with Lula gaining political capital and Bolsonaro melting down) the election tends to be resolved in the first round in favor of the PT, for the “good of all, and general happiness of the nation”. On the other hand, a runoff with Lula and someone with LESS rejection than he would revive schizophrenic anti-PTism, and could catalyze an arc of opposition to Lula that could be as broad or broader than the “broad front” of support for the PT. Both premises seem true, and Bolsonaro’s barring would be the best chance for a “third way” to get to a second round.

From a legalistic point of view, Bolsonaro should not have even been made president. Since then, he must have had about three hundred reasons for his impeachment, and a movement against Bolsonaro at this point indicates much more casuistry than law enforcement. After all, he was already co-responsible for the 667 thousand deaths from covid and for half of the Brazilian population being in a state of food insecurity. At this point in the championship, to suggest a punishment for a possible (now?) illegal use of fake news would be a clear demonstration of using the rigors of the law for elite political goals.

On the other hand, from the point of view of the legitimacy of the election, Bolsonaro’s barring is terrible. It contaminates not only the 2022 election, but also that of 2026. It would be the third election in a row with “externalities” to the ballot box defining the election’s course. The illegality of the candidate with almost 30% of the voting intentions would serve, at this moment, only to make those who attack the legitimacy of the election happy. If Bolsonaro is not defeated at the polls, overwhelmingly, the fascist myth will do its job by 2026, and a representative of the Bolsonaro clan will certainly present himself as an avenging knight fighting for “justice” four years from now.

Finally, the movement to revoke the Bolsonaro ticket would completely change the electoral scoreboard, which today is unfavorable to the elites. It would be the possibility of a “new fact” whose conclusion is difficult to predict. From a strategic point of view, however, for the elites and for the liberals, a possibility of change is better than no change in the current scenario. The truth is that, as paradoxical as it may be, Bolsonaro’s barring today only serves the interests of the elites. There is no chance that this barring of the ticket will change the policy of the Bolsonaro government (barring is not impeachment) and, therefore, would not cool social violence and the impoverishment of the people. It would not prevent Bolsonaro from continuing to sell public assets (and perhaps even do the opposite if he threw himself into this objective more forcefully) nor would it make Bolsonaro suddenly become civilized and polite.

Leaving the heart aside, the barring of the Bolsonaro ticket, at this moment, is the best move that the elites, liberals and the third way can think of in an attempt to regain any leading role in the 2022 election. It serves only them. For Bolsonaro, every second between today and the election is important, and for the Lula left, the best thing would be to fall asleep today and wake up tomorrow on October 2nd.

Hope has no patience when it is hungry, but if the bet is on democracy and institutions, Bolsonaro needs to be defeated at the polls, arrested, and prosecuted for the crimes he has committed.


By Fernando Horta

PhD in History of International Relations at the University of Brasília (UNB). Denver University Visiting Scholar.