Brazilians rally for democracy and seek to rein in Bolsonaro

SAO PAULO — Thousands of Brazilians flocked to a law school on Thursday to defend the country’s democratic institutions, an event that echoed a rally nearly 45 years ago when citizens gathered at the same site to denounce a brutal military dictatorship.

In 1977, the masses flocked to the University of Sao Paulo Law School to hear a reading of “A Letter to the Brazilians,” a manifesto calling for a speedy return to the rule of law. On Thursday, they heard statements defending the country’s democracy and electoral systems, which President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly attacked before his re-election bid.

Although the current manifestos do not specifically name Bolsonaro, they underscore the country’s widespread concern that the far-right leader may follow in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump and reject election results that are not in his favor. in an attempt to cling to power.

“We are at risk of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against this to guarantee democracy,” José Carlos Dias, a former justice minister who helped draft the letter, told The Associated Press. of 1977 and the two documents read on Thursday.

In Sao Paulo, drivers stuck in traffic on one of the main roads leading to the law school cheered and honked as marching students chanted pro-democracy slogans. A huge inflatable electronic voting machine at the building’s main entrance bore the slogan “RESPECT THE VOTE”.

Inside, hundreds of guests gathered in the university’s Great Hall to hear speeches, while others stood outside to watch on large flat screens.

The proclamations are contained in two letters. The first went live on July 26 and was signed by nearly one million citizens, including ordinary citizens; popular musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Anitta; bankers and high-level executives; and presidential candidates, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all polls ahead of the October elections.

Read more: Brazil’s most popular president returns from political exile

The second letter, published in newspapers last Friday, carries the endorsement of hundreds of companies in the banking, oil, construction and transportation sectors — sectors that have traditionally been opposed to taking public policy positions, Carlos said. Melo, professor of political science at Insper University in Sao Paulo. They appear to have made an exception now, given concerns that any democratic rollback will be bad for business, he said.

“Democracy is important for the economy,” he said.

Bolsonaro’s commitment to democracy has come under scrutiny since taking office, largely because the former army captain has emphatically glorified the country’s two-decade-long dictatorship, which ended in 1985. Earlier that year he met with the autocratic leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The president did not speak about the event until Thursday night, saying it was designed to support da Silva’s campaign. He also criticized the Workers’ Party for supporting left-wing authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.

For more than a year, in actions that appear to be lifted straight from Trump’s playbook, Bolsonaro claimed that Brazil’s electronic voting machines were prone to fraud, although – like Trump – he never presented evidence. At one point, he threatened that the election would be suspended if Congress did not approve a bill to introduce printed ballot receipts. The bill was not passed.

Bolsonaro has also begun to express a desire for greater involvement of the armed forces in election monitoring. Last week, army officials visited the headquarters of the electoral authority to inspect the source codes of the voting machines. Bolsonaro has alleged that some of the top authority figures are working against him.

On Thursday at law school, Carlos Silveira carried a sign that read: “The army doesn’t count votes.

“We are here because it is more risky to do nothing,” said Silveira, 43. “Bolsonaro suggested a big anti-democratic act before the election, and the military stayed on their side, it seems. We want to show them that we are the majority and that our quest for democracy will win.

A man holds a sign directed towards President Jair Bolsonaro which reads in Portuguese “Get out Bolsonaro. Another Brazil is possible,” Faculty of Law, University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, August 11, 2022.

AP Photo/Andre Penner

When Bolsonaro launched his campaign, he called on his supporters to flood the streets for the September 7 Independence Day celebrations. On this date last year, he declared in front of tens of thousands of people who gathered at his request that only God can remove him from power. On the same day, he declared that he would no longer take into account the decisions of a Supreme Court judge, threatening to plunge the country into an institutional crisis. He later backtracked, saying his comment was made in the heat of the moment.

Bolsonaro’s rhetoric resonates with his base, but increasingly alienates him politically, Melo said.

Since last year, the electoral authority has been proactive in addressing claims against the electoral system. His senior officials, who are also Supreme Court justices, have made repeated statements in his defense. Behind the scenes, they worked overtime to recruit allies in the legislature and the private sector, although many were reluctant to echo their public statements.

A turning point came last month, after Bolsonaro called foreign ambassadors to the presidential residence to lecture them about the supposed vulnerabilities of electronic voting. Since then, congressional leaders and the attorney general, all seen as allies of Bolsonaro, have expressed confidence in the reliability of the system.

The United States also weighed in, with its State Department issuing a statement the day after the ambassadors’ meeting to say Brazil’s electoral system and democratic institutions are a “model for the world.” At a July conference with regional defense ministers in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the military should perform their duties responsibly, especially during elections.

Letters – which at any other time might have been a dry exercise relegated to academia – struck a chord in society. In recent days, television stations have broadcast clips of artists reading the commitment to democracy, and rallies are being held in 22 cities across the country.

Read more: How Black Brazilians Fight Racial Injustice Today

One of the guests to speak at the university’s law school was Arminio Fraga, a prominent asset manager and former central bank chief under a previous center-right administration.

“I am here today… with such a diverse group who have sometimes fought on opposite sides, doing all we can now to preserve what is sacred to us all. This is our democracy,” said Fraga, an outspoken critic of Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro, for his part, played down concerns, calling the manifestos “small letters” and insisting on respect for the Constitution. While publicly kicking off the law school rally on Twitter on Thursday, he remarked, “Today a very important act took place…Petrobras reduced, once again, the price of diesel.”

On Twitter, he added Thursday evening: “Brazil already has its letter for democracy; the Constitution. It is the only letter that counts to ensure the democratic rule of law, but it is precisely the one that has been attacked by those who promote a parallel text which, for legal effects, is worth less than toilet paper.

Yet concern over Bolsonaro’s fiery rhetoric has spread even among some allies and undermined their efforts to keep the peace between the administration and other institutions, two Cabinet ministers told The Associated Press. . They spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Bolsonaro’s party has distanced itself from claims that the election could be jeopardized. The leader of the party asked the president of the electoral tribunal to assure him of his confidence in the electoral system, Augusto Rosa, vice-president of the party, told AP.

Either way, the election will be an uphill battle for Bolsonaro. More than half of those polled by pollster Datafolha said they would not vote for him under any circumstances, although support has recently strengthened amid falling unemployment, falling petrol prices and increase in social spending. Analysts have said they expect da Silva’s lead to shrink as elections approach, given that incumbents tend to benefit from the state machine. A tight race would make pre-election promises to respect the results all the more relevant.

Jeantet reported from Rio de Janeiro and Álvares from Brasilia

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