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Brazil’s Bolsonaro, All-In, Shows His Hand | Insight

Jair Bolsonaro’s preparation for a contested election against Lula da Silva is a clear sign that things are about to get worse in Brazil’s already jeopardized democracy.

A few days ago, on August 28, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told his supporters that only three outcomes were possible for him in the election due to take place in a year: “being arrested, killed or victory.” He later ruled out arrest due to the supposed fact that “No man on Earth will threaten” him. What’s more, he has repeatedly pressed for a Constitutional amendment to modify the voting system in Brazil, which he says is necessary to prevent fraud. Given his declaration and the fact that this amendment has not and will not pass, it is clear that Mr. Bolsonaro is setting himself up to dispute the upcoming election, should he lose.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s claim that no man would threaten him is not baseless. On August 10, an irregular military parade, replete with tanks and all, rolled through the streets of the nation’s capital of Brasilia, paying homage to Mr. Bolsonaro, who waved the troops along graciously. This was the same day that the Brazilian Congress was set to vote on that all-important amendment to the Constitution.

The military’s support for the President is unsurprising, as his cabinet has more officers of the armed forces than any cabinet since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985. As more officers have joined Mr. Bolsonaro’s political inner circle, the top brass of the army, navy, and air force recently resigned in protest. Predictably, they were replaced by others more loyal who stood beside him during the recent show of strength in the capital.

Such foreboding treatment of the upcoming election and displays of military support set a very dark tone in a country which had its democracy toppled in the 60s by a military coup and then restored only 30-odd years ago. This is true especially as Mr. Bolsonaro looks to be facing stiff competition for the Presidency.

Former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva—known commonly as “Lula”—was recently cleared of corruption convictions from 2017 by the Supreme Court, whose Chief Justice Mr. Bolsonaro has asked to be impeached and called a “son of a whore.” The Court annulled the convictions, which could be retried, due to leaked communications demonstrating conspiracy between prosecutors and the presiding judge in Mr. da Silva’s case. Now Mr. da Silva will be able to run against Mr. Bolsonaro in 2022, something that was not possible in the last race in 2018.

As it stands, it looks as though Mr. da Silva has very strong odds against Mr. Bolsonaro. Current polls indicate a first-round win from Mr. da Silva, whose victory would be near-certain in a run-off, as a broad opposition coalition has emerged to challenge Mr. Bolsonaro. Mr. da Silva and a political rival have even publicly buried the hatchet and pledged mutual support in opposition to the President.

Unfortunately, Mr. da Silva provides an easy target of contestation for Mr. Bolsonaro. If the former President—who has not yet formally declared his candidacy—wins, Mr. Bolsonaro will have an easy rhetorical fallback, claiming that Mr. da Silva has been convicted in the past for corruption, a habit which no doubt extends to the election. And the truth is that Mr. da Silva probably was guilty of corruption, despite the patently unfair and politicized treatment which led to his 2017 conviction.

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Mr. Bolsonaro, evidenced by his ground-laying for claims of electoral fraud, will likely use any tool at his disposal to dispute the election.  He could easily build on this foundation with such allegations against Mr. da Silva to provide plenty of cover for him and his military commanders to ‘act in the interests of Brazil and democracy’ to overturn the Brazilian people’s vote and upset the democracy.

While it’s likely true that Mr. da Silva enabled and partook in corruption damaging to Brazilian democracy, there’s no reason to believe that Mr. Bolsonaro or any other leading politician in the country has embodied any other example. The corruption in the country must be rooted out for the sake of democracy, but that may take some time. Brazil does not have many good options, but it will be better off with a man, perhaps corrupt, at least committed to democracy, than one committed only to the cultivation of his own cult of personality and military support.

As unwelcome a thought as it is, Mr. Bolsonaro has issued an ultimatum for the upcoming election and its outcomes. For the sake of democracy and the people of Brazil, one must hope none of his three possible futures come to pass in 2022.


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