In Brief

Brazil election: is Jair Bolsonaro preparing to stage a coup?

Opposition candidate now ‘clear favourite’ to win, but Bolsonaro’s behaviour is still cause for alarm

Is Jair Bolsonaro preparing to stage a coup? It’s starting to look that way, said Fernando de Barros e Silva in Folha de São Paulo. Last week, Brazil’s far-right president marked his country’s independence day by staging a huge rally in São Paulo. Addressing 140,000 supporters, he repeated his previous attacks on the integrity of Brazil’s electronic voting system, and lashed out at the Supreme Court, vowing to no longer follow its rulings.

He also launched a bitter verbal assault on one of the court’s justices, who incurred his wrath by authorising several probes into his conduct, including to examine whether he has committed a crime by spreading fake news about the risk of fraud in next year’s presidential elections. But it was his uncompromising language that really set alarm bells ringing. “I will never be jailed,” vowed the 66-year-old former army captain. “Only God will oust me.”

I wouldn’t worry too much about his rantings, said Ricardo Kertzman in Istoé (São Paulo). Sure, they might help rally his predominantly white, older, “well-nourished” base, but the people at his speeches don’t represent most Brazilians, 51% of whom are black or brown, and 25% of whom are aged 15-29. As for rumours that his supporters might storm the Supreme Court in an echo of January’s Capitol Hill riots in Washington – well, that didn’t happen.

Most Brazilians are more preoccupied with the country’s 14% unemployment rate, soaring food prices, and the government’s egregious mishandling of the pandemic than with Bolsonaro’s populist bluster. And his poll ratings are plummeting: just 24% of voters approve of him, the lowest level since he took office in 2019.

The opposition candidate, the left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is now “clear favourite” to win next year’s vote, said Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly (New York). Yet Bolsonaro’s behaviour is still cause for alarm. His ability to attract large crowds shows his supporters buy into his claims that he is not to blame for Brazil’s ills. And his “all-or-nothing strategy” (he recently said he has “three alternatives... being arrested, getting killed or winning”) risks plunging the country into a constitutional crisis if he refuses to relinquish power.

Luckily, there’s no sign that Brazil’s generals would back efforts by Bolsonaro to return the country to a military dictatorship of the kind that ruled from 1964 until 1985, said The Economist. But it’s clear he won’t shy away from challenging next year’s results, perhaps by deploying “angry mobs” with “cavalier” attitudes towards democracy.

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