Bolsonaro attacks civic leaders initiative to defend country’s democratic system ahead of presidential election

Brazilian president has intensified his campaign against nation’s voting system and the supreme court judges that oversee it

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has attacked an initiative by civic leaders to defend the country’s democratic system ahead of October’s presidential elections.

Led by the law faculty at the University of São Paulo, one of Brazil’s oldest and most eminent institutions, an open letter in defence of democracy has been circulated nationally and has already gathered up hundreds of thousands of signatures. The letter will be read publicly on Thursday at the São Paulo law faculty before thousands of people drawn from all walks of Brazilian civic society.

Mr Bolsonaro lashed out at the initiative, which he refuses to sign though it only calls for the country’s democratic system to be respected, after business and financial bodies adhered to it. In recent months he has intensified his rhetorical campaign against the country’s voting system and the supreme court judges that oversee it.

The former army captain claims electronic voting machines are vulnerable to fraud, though without providing evidence and has demurred when asked if he will accept defeat.


Coup denial

Speaking at a gathering of bankers on Monday, the president said those who signed up to the democratic initiative preferred “a corrupt democracy to an honest person in a strong regime”. All opinion polls show him on course to lose to his main left-wing rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who spent over a year in jail following a conviction for corruption which was later overturned after the supreme court ruled the judge in charge of the investigation was biased.

This week’s pro-democracy demonstration consciously echoes a historic rally in 1977 held in the same location against the then military dictatorship. As part of his campaign against this week’s event, Mr Bolsonaro once again denied that the military overthrow of the then democratic system in 1964 was a coup. As his campaign has failed to make significant inroads into Lula’s lead despite a raft of financial handouts that many jurists say are unconstitutional in an election year, Mr Bolsonaro’s team has upped its rhetoric in recent weeks.

On Sunday at an evangelical service beside her husband, first lady Michelle Bolsonaro told the congregation that the country was witnessing “a war between good and evil” and that for many years the presidential palace “was consecrated to demons and now it is consecrated to the Lord Jesus”. Evangelical voters are one of the few groups, along with wealthy Brazilians, among whom Mr Bolsonaro holds a significant advantage over Lula, polls show.

This week also saw the head of Brazil’s electoral court exclude an army colonel from sitting on the court’s transparency commission.

Col Ricardo Sant’Anna was excluded after it was revealed he had spread fake news about supposed vulnerabilities to voting machines as well as attacks on Lula’s Workers Party. Military personnel are under orders to avoid political comments on social media.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America