On October 7, in the first round of the Brazilian presidential election, by voting 46 per cent in favour of the populist MP and former army officer Jair Bolsonaro, with only 29 per cent of the votes going to the academic Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party, has the Brazilian population declared a desire to return to military dictatorship, as it was known from 1964 to 1985?
Could the largest country in Latin America have suddenly turned fascist, as some commentators have suggested?
Of course not.
The proof is that in the legislative elections – which took place at the same time. The Liberal Social Party (PSL) of Bolsonaro won only 52 seats out of 513, a number slightly lower than that of the Workers’ Party (moderate left, whose historic leader, trade unionist Lula, president from 2003 to 2011, was thrown in jail for a corruption).
Moreover, Brazil is a federal country. It has very strong counter-powers and it will not turn into a Mussolini-style dictatorship tomorrow.
But it is obvious that the Brazilian population wanted, in this particular presidential election, to send a very clear message to the political elites: we are fed up with insecurity!
In Rio de Janeiro, there are whole neighbourhoods where the police do not dare to enter, even during the day. In the favelas, the drug gangs are waging war on the streets. In Sao Paolo, the economic capital, motorists are afraid to stop at traffic lights for fear of carjacking by groups of young people in hoodies.
In 2016, Brazil recorded nearly 62,000 homicides, an average of seven homicides per hour. The murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 25.5 in Brazil.
It is the highest in the world. It is five times higher than that of the United States, twenty-two times greater than that of Portugal, seventy-five times greater than that of Japan.
The ideologues on the right, obsessed by their cult of freedom, and the ideologues of the left, obsessed by their cult of equality, all too often forget that what the citizens ask of the state first and foremost, is an assurance of their security. For themselves, their family, their property.
Is the state not defined as the institution with a monopoly on legitimate coercion? When a state is no longer able to provide security for its citizens, it no longer deserves the name of a state. Without security, the republican values of freedom and equality mean nothing because they cannot be applied.
When, in 2003, the US invaded Iraq to overthrow the political dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, they welcomed the introduction of democracy. In fact, in January 2005, the election of a national constituent assembly took place, where every Iraqi could vote as he pleased. But as they were unable, at the same time, to keep the streets secure, Americans soon became hated by the vast majority of the population.
A mother can do nothing with her new right to vote if she is afraid to send her children to school. Neo-conservative Westerners have for a long time understood that, for the peoples of the East, there was something worse than political dictatorship: anarchy. And worse than anarchy: civil war.
In the Philippines, Ricardo Duterte, the populist president elected in the summer of 2016, leads – with expeditious methods – a merciless war on drug traffickers and drug addicts (who have already killed more than 4,000 people).
He says he wants to prevent the archipelago from becoming a narco-state. The frequent burrs of his police did not make the president unpopular. He is harvesting popularity rates above 75 per cent.
The truth is that the population, tired of drug-induced crime, is ready to pay a high price to root drug crime out of the country.
Western European electorates have recently been tempted by various populist votes. The fault lies with the governments that have ruled the continent since the end of the sixties, whether inspired by economic liberalism or by social democracy.
Naïve about human nature, they let neighbourhoods develop where the law of the jungle came to supplant the laws of the state. When the population of the working-class neighbourhoods asked for a tough answer, they showed pusillanimity, for fear of being treated as ‘fascists’ by the bourgeoisie (which is protected by its own money).
They failed to understand that, to kill authoritarian temptations, democracies must at all costs provide their citizens with the first human rights, which is security.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.