In Depth

Is time running out for Jair Bolsonaro as even right-wingers demand resignation?

‘Trump of the tropics’ facing public outrage over coronavirus chaos and corruption scandal

Brazil’s biggest conservative newspaper is leading calls for Jair Bolsonaro to quit amid nationwide anger over the country’s mounting Covid death toll.

Bolsonaro “is no longer in a position to remain in the presidency”, declared O Estado de São Paulo on Sunday, as latest polls showed that approval ratings for the the far-right populist leader have plummeted following his government’s chaotic pandemic response and a vaccine corruption scandal.

Attacking the Donald Trump-admiring president for his “crass and preposterous” handling of the health crisis, the paper’s political columnist Eliane Cantanhede added: “This is Jair Bolsonaro’s worst moment. He’s melting and the idea people have of him is melting.”

Time’s up?

Brazil’s Covid-19 outbreak has claimed the lives of almost 535,000 people - a tally that has “dragged” Bolsonaro’s ratings among voters to “their lowest ever level”, The Guardian reports.

According to Datafolha polling conducted for another leading newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, 54% of Brazilians support a proposed move by their country’s lower house of Congress to open impeachment proceedings against the president, compared with 42% who oppose the move.

Of more than 2,000 adults quizzed, 63% said they considered him to be incapable of governing, up from 58% in May. And 59% said they would not vote for Bolsonaro under any circumstances in next year’s elections, when he hopes to secure a second four-year term.

The damning survey results are “largely thanks to an unfolding scandal over allegedly corrupt Covid vaccine deals and Bolsonaro’s handling of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak”, says The Guardian. An early Covid-sceptic, he played down the threat, resulting in the rapid spread of infections and the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus.

Having run on a ticket of ending Brazil’s culture of corruption, Bolsonaro has also been hit hard by “alleged irregularities in his government’s coronavirus vaccine procurement process”, Al Jazeera says.

Federal investigators announced last month that a probe had begun into “a government contract worth 1.6 billion reals (£231m) for 20 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine made by India’s Bharat Biotech, Covaxin”, the news site continues. Prosecutors “cited comparatively high prices, speedy talks and pending regulatory approvals as red flags for the Bharat contract signed in February”. 

The corruption scandal may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for Bolsonaro, whose “popularity started to plummet from January 2021, when the government stopped handing out subsidies to mitigate the economic crunch” triggered by Covid, says France 24.

In a further blow to his ratings, the president is also “the subject of senate investigation over his handling of the pandemic, the seriousness of which he repeatedly downplayed”, the news site adds.

Left high and dry

A former paratrooper, Bolsonaro made the transition from colourful political outsider to president of Brazil by “using social media to portray himself as a corruption-busting anti-establishment maverick who had come to drain Brazil’s swamp”, The Guardian says. 

His “critics have long questioned that image, pointing to incessant accusations of low-level corruption and mafia ties that have dogged Bolsonaro’s family”, the paper adds, but the claims failed to dent his popularity.  

Now, however, “he finds himself in the spotlight because of murky procurement negotiations”, The Economist reports. Earlier this month, thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in dozens of cities nationwide to protests against his Covid response

And as the corruption investigation ramps up, “the pressure on the president is growing”, as “right-wing groups who want to distance themselves from the administration’s disastrous approach to the pandemic” join opposition parties in calling for his impeachment, the paper continues.

The calls from the right for his impeachment “seem partly driven by conservative angst” over the return of popular left-wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. According to Datafolha polling, Lula would beat Bolsonaro by 58% to 31% in a second-round election run-off, a 4% increase on the difference in May.

Lula was unable to run against Bolsonaro in 2018 because he was serving a 12-year corruption sentence linked to the Petrobras corruption scandal. But after his convictions were quashed on procedural grounds in March, Lula is being tipped to run next year.

With unemployment at a record 14.7%, Lula’s brand of left-wing populism might once again prove popular with the Brazilian electorate. By contrast, “Bolsonaro will not be able to play the anti-corruption card” in his second crack at the top job, The Economist says.

Most voters view their current president as “dishonest, insincere, incompetent, unprepared, indecisive, authoritarian and dim”, says daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Given that verdict, Bolsonaro appears set to live up to his “Trump of the Tropics” moniker - either through impeachment or election defeat.

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