The American Donald Trump, the Peruvian Keiko Fujimori, the Bolivian Carlos Mesa, the Mexican López Obrador, the Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu and the Brazilians Aécio Neves and Jair Bolsonaro. All of them questioned the results of the elections in their country and began to speak, without proof, of fraud.
Fujimori and Netanyahu are the most recent. Both were defeated in their respective electoral disputes.
The Israeli, for example, says he witnesses “the biggest electoral fraud in the country’s history.” Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, says there is “a clear intention to boycott the will of the people”.
Trump called it a “crime of the century” in 2020, but failed to convince any of the more than 50 judges who assessed his claims.
But both the former US president and the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro (no party), are exceptions in this group for having been victorious and having always contested the ballot box.
Bolsonaro accepted the result, but said, without presenting evidence to date, that he would have won the first round in 2018. The American spoke of fraud even when he won in 2016.
And, just as Trump did months before running for reelection in 2020, with more than a year to go for the Brazilian election, Bolsonaro has already questioned the fairness of the election and will accept his own s ‘he is defeated.
Contesting elections is a right of politicians in a democratic system and an important mechanism to denounce fraud and correct injustices. It is a resource available to all candidates, from any part of the political spectrum.
But in recent years, this has become a political strategy.
“Today’s authoritarian populist leaders are acting strategically to delegitimize the electoral process and thus liberal democracy itself,” explains political scientist Maria do Socorro Sousa Braga, professor at the Federal University of São Carlos ( UFSCar).
But what do they have to gain from it?
According to researchers interviewed by BBC News Brasil, mainly to mobilize their base of support, broaden their scope of power and question the legitimacy of their opponents.
Aécio and the contesting of the ballot boxes in 2014
Anthropologist Isabela Kalil, coordinator of the Center for Urban Ethnography of the São Paulo School of Sociology and Politics Foundation, studies the extreme right, portfolio, conservatism and disinformation.
For her, when then-presidential candidate Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG), in 2014, challenged the election result – with charges later refuted – it sparked voter mistrust of the country and discussion proposals for changes in the electoral process.
Now a Member of Parliament, Neves defends the implementation of the print vote because he says it would increase voter confidence and deflate unfounded fraud accusations.
In 2015, a PSDB audit of the election challenge a year earlier did not prove the fraud and said the electronic voting system did not allow for a full audit.
Years later, Neves was recorded by businessman Joesley Batista claiming to have challenged Dilma Rousseff’s re-election in 2014 to “piss off” the PT.
Currently, the main change in the debate is the introduction of the print vote, adopted by Bolsonaro and politicians not only from his base of support, such as Ciro Gomes (PDT).
Under this proposal, voting would continue to be done through an electronic ballot box, but a printer would show the voter a paper receipt for the vote. This paper would automatically be placed in another ballot box, without going through the hand of the voter or anyone else.
This change, according to his supporters, would ensure more reliability in the electoral process. For the deputy Pocketnarista Bia Kicis (PSL-DF), president of the Constitution and Justice Commission of the House, the 2022 election will only be reliable with the production of this receipt in 100% of electronic voting machines.
In his Proposal for an Amendment to the Constitution (PEC) to institute the printed vote, Kicis specifies that “purely electronic voting, in addition to not providing the necessary legal certainty for the voter, always violates the principles of publicity and transparency, confirming that the electronic ballot box, although it represented a modernization of the electoral process, in the sense of guaranteeing speed both in the vote and in the counting of elections, has been the subject of constant and well-founded criticism as to the reliability of the calculated results “.
In addition, the text of the PEC specifies that the country has become the hostage of the “juristocracy of the Higher Electoral Tribunal (TSE)” in electoral matters, because the court “boycots” the measure and that the printing of the ballot paper is “the internationally recommended solution – except by TSE technicians – so that electronic voting can be independently audited.”
Bolsonaro told lawmakers in May: “I am sure that at the polls in 2022, with the auditable vote you approved, with Bia Kicis in the lead, we will no longer have any doubts, there will no longer be the shadow of a doubt in the minds of every Brazilian citizen, the process was carried out with equity or not ”.
That same month, he said that if the PEC is approved by Congress by October this year, the printed vote will be instituted for 2022 and hints at interference from the judiciary, which has already banned the change. the previous years.
“There will be a printed vote, because if there is no printed vote, it is a sign that the election will not take place. I think the message has been given.”
For Kalil, Bolsonaro’s strategy has less to do with a concern to make the Brazilian electoral system even more secure and more with “the recurring strategy of authoritarian leaders to discredit the elections and the democratic process as a whole”.
“For them, contesting the ballot box is an opportunity to move forward in a project of democratic erosion.”
“Discredit institutions and discourage voting”
But what would candidates and leaders gain from doing this? For Sousa Braga, as these politicians discredit democratic institutions through themselves, they begin to concentrate more and more power without respecting poll results.
According to her, the Brazilian context is favorable to this type of movement because it has a “strong conservative electorate, with great mistrust of representative institutions and a good part of the political class, in a context of increasing deinstitutionalization of civil relations. -military (with greater political participation of military personnel) ”.
Kalil stresses that this type of posture turns the political process into a permanent campaign. The base of supporters of these authoritarian leaders remains mobilized, united and active beyond the election period. In the event of a defeat at the polls, this mass will act to undermine the legitimacy of those who have won.
“You put the elected official in danger. There is a series of actions against the head or the head of state precisely with the justification that the accession to this position is not legitimate because it has been rigged. the base is also maintained with the objective of overthrowing the government or causing unrest “.
Netanyahu’s allegations of fraud, for example, forced politicians from the Yamina party, which is part of the coalition that defeated the current prime minister, to resort to a police escort after receiving death threats.
In the United States, a protest against Congressional confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory resulted in the invasion of Capitol Hill. The leaders of Congress had to be evacuated due to the risk of being assassinated. Five people eventually died.
For Kalil, the strategy rests on two pillars: discrediting the democratic process and discouraging people from voting. The second, she says, is championed by some groups in Brazil, but it is far from having the strength it has in countries like the United States.
Kalil explains that this movement has links to the roots of electoral processes, when only white males with property were eligible to vote.
At the basis of the archaic rules was the idea that these would be the “most capable” of defining the political destiny of society. This type of argument resonates with groups defending the end of the right to vote for the illiterate, for example.
Following accusations of fraud and disincentives to vote, some social groups end up not participating in the electoral process.
“If the system doesn’t work, people stop participating, because they start to think it’s all drama, it’s all a fraud. So why are they going to leave their homes to vote if in the end that’s all he’s going to do to be defrauded, it’s a big lie. What is behind it is the non-participation, ”says Kalil.
The anthropologist says that this phenomenon is not yet happening in Brazil, although abstention gradually increases with each election, and the sum of blank and null votes even exceeds the total number of valid votes in some cities. She and other scholars have attributed this trend not to a decline in public confidence in the electoral system, but, among several other reasons, to disillusionment with the political system or the model of representative democracy in the country. Brazil.
In “How Democracies Die”, authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that “false allegations of fraud can undermine public confidence in elections – and when citizens do not trust the electoral process, they often lose confidence in the election process. democracy itself ”.
This happened in Mexico, for example. The current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, described by some analysts as a left-wing populist, has not accepted the result of two previous elections due to alleged fraud.
In 2006, when he challenged the poll results, confidence in the Mexican electoral system plummeted and nearly four in ten Mexicans did not trust the result, Levitsky and Ziblatt point out. In 2012, when he was beaten again, seven in ten believed in fraud at the ballot box.
Now in power, López Obrador has acted to weaken the country’s electoral institution under the pretext, according to him, of preventing fraud.
For Sousa Braga, of UFSCar, the main obstacles to authoritarian advances are precisely the strengthening of democratic institutions. “Parties, whatever their ideological field, must defend them and act according to the rules they have created.”
The researcher says that in 2022, the Brazilian justice will have a “crucial role” in the investigation of the abuses which could be committed in the campaign on the social networks, for example, to avoid that the legitimacy of the electoral process is not affected .