In October 2022, the Brazilian presidential elections saw former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva return to power, beating incumbent Jair Bolsonaro with a slight margin. Bolsonaro, often modelling his politics after former American President Donald Trump, reaffirmed his commitment to the Brazilian Constitution days after the announcement of the results. This statement from him did not explicitly indicate his acceptance of the defeat and was in line with his rhetoric before the vote, where he constantly insisted that the election results would be rigged.
Rioters storming the Brazilian Congress
Image Credits: Financial Times
Bolsonaro supporters then decided to take matters into their own hands. On 8 January, they attacked government buildings in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, including the Supreme Court, Congress and presidential offices. It took state police a few hours to get things under control and detain over 1500 protestors, who had apparently been planning the series of protests for over two months.
These events looked eerily similar to the Capitol Hill insurrection, which was a violent attack on the United States Capitol building that took place on 6 January 2021. The insurrection was carried out by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who were protesting the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election. The attackers stormed the Capitol building, breaking doors and windows, vandalizing offices, and clashing with police. The attack resulted in several fatalities and disrupted the certification of the Electoral College vote by Congress. The insurrection was widely condemned by politicians, international leaders, and the public, and it led to the impeachment of President Trump by the House of Representatives.
US Capitol riots
Image Credits: BBC
These instances in the U.S. and Brazil are serious in that they undermine a core tenet of a democratic system: the smooth and peaceful transition of power after an election. Regarded as one of the key characteristics of a mature and functional democracy, it shows that the losing party accepts the outcome of the election and that the winning party is able to take control of the government without violence or disruption. This reinforces the legitimacy of the democratic process and demonstrates that the rule of law prevails.
A peaceful transition of power also helps to maintain public trust in the electoral process and the government. It signals that the government is responsive to the will of the people, as expressed through the election, and that the political system is capable of resolving conflicts and making decisions in a peaceful manner.
A number scholars in the field of democratic theory have written extensively about the importance of a smooth transfer of power. For example, Arend Lijphart's work highlights the crucial role that peaceful transitions of power play in the survival of presidential democracies, while Samuel Huntington's "The Third Wave" explores how the peaceful transition of power is a key indicator of democratic consolidation.
India has mostly always had a peaceful transition of power after elections. The key exception being the Emergency period in the 1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended the country's constitution and imposed authoritarian rule. Despite these instances, India's democratic system has proven to be resilient, and the peaceful transfer of power remains a hallmark of our political system. That said, this must not be taken for granted – as the United States and Brazil examples have starkly reminded us.