Populisms, Elitism and the Threat to Liberal Constitutional Democracy in Brazil

Brazil is a useful case-study in the use, and limits, of the term ‘populism’, and the different ways in which the ‘p’ word is said to influence or threaten liberal democratic constitutionalism. Over a decade of what was often termed left-wing populist governance, under Presidents Lula and Dilma, is viewed in some quarters as having produced not only a revenge of the élites in the “abusive impeachment” of Dilma Rousseff, but also a wider right-wing populism whose Trump-like figurehead, Jair Bolsonaro. Populism as a term does have some utility in the attempt to capture the growing strength of a particular technology of political messaging and governance in Brazil and to compare these developments with so-called populist constitutionalism elsewhere. However, the Brazilian context also highlights the dangers associated with the populism tag, and whether the term ‘populist constitutionalism’ can work as anything more than a broad rubric.