Honors Thesis Spotlight: Far-Right Fever: Examining the Electoral Rise and Political Persistence of Brazil and Hungary’s Populist Radical Right

Since the 2010s, the right-winged authoritarianism movement (combination of nativism, antidemocracy, and authoritarianism) has shaped political parties in electoral policies, garnered public favor, and rejected the ideals of liberalism. In Europe, Southeast Asia, the United States, and South America, the right-winged populist (having the right-wing ideas but lacking a bias toward an economic system) has allowed party leaders to gain the role of chief executive of the country. In particular, the two most notable leaders are Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

In this thesis, Giovanna Garcia uses the case studies of these two leaders in academic literature to examine how distinct institutions allow the movement of the radical populist right-winged movement to rise and how the institutions can affect the continuance of the country. In specific, the literature examines how political supply in contrast to social demand helps the growth of and persistence of right-winged systems.

Garcia argues that a single institution does not foster the rise of the far-right in a country, but “a confluence of institutional factors contributes” (2) to the political persistence of the movement. In specific, Garcia examines how Hungry’s political system fabricated a process for the Fidesz (Orban’s political party) to gain electoral growth and how the institutions contained and manipulated mechanisms that benefited the ruling party’s status; and all in contrast to the conditions in Brazil 2018 presidential election, where the right-winged movement gained power without an organized party or supporters in the legislature. While researching this issue, Garcia assumes that parliamentary systems are more favorable to the right-winged political persistence than the presidential ones; a popular, loyal, and highly disciplined party is essential to long-term success; and electoral rules that are complex and manipulative allow the party to be maintained and consolidate power.         

Hungry’s parliamentary election is designed by having one voter cast a vote twice where one vote goes towards “one for a representative for their home constituency and one for a party” (22). This party system was formed under the reform of the 2011 Fidesz parliamentary majority (since the 2010 election, the Fidesz party has won the two-thirds majority vote in every parliamentary election). Since this election, Orban’s party has manipulated the system by having a supermajority which gave them the ability to reduce the number of members in parliament (386 to 199)and increase his party’s influence. Contrariwise to Orban’s manipulation, Bolsonaro used pre-existing complications and distinctions in Brazil’s electoral system.

Since Brazil’s electoral system relies on personalist political leaders, factors determined by the likability of the person, and a multiparty system, the system allows “the candidate to pursue and publicize their incendiary brand of politics” (25). In Brazil, the political system uses open-list proportional representation where voters can determine the order of the parties on the ballot. Open-list proportional representation incentivizes individuals to gain public favor instead of loyal political party votes since it is based on a personalist system. This system along with Bolsonaro’s reputation as the Chamber of Deputies from 1991 to 2018 enabled his own populist radical right politics without the worry of party discipline and to eventually succeed to presidency. Thus, Brazil’s political system both involuntary and explicitly allowed for right-winged populist ideas to rise.

         The results from the research show that political supply components (institutions) “are what transform social demand for the far-right into a political breakthrough” (53). The conclusion drawn from the evidence shows that no single institution allocates the rise of either Orban or Bolsonaro, but the combination of political supply and popular demand provide conditions to let these political leaders gain power. Although, Brazil’s presidential system, compared to Hungry’s parliamentary system, does limit the presidential influence on policy by term limits and hinders longevity. In the parliamentary system, the prime minister can hold office and influence as long as the party holds a majority, thus allowing for longer influence on policy. Also, a party that is structured and has a popular leader will have more long-term success (like in the case of Orban). From this research, Garcia demonstrates the importance of studying institutions while surveying the circumstances that allow political potency within the right-winged movement.  

Giovanna Garcia is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Giovanna’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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