RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians flocked to the University of Sao Paulo’s law school to hear a manifesto denouncing the brutal military dictatorship and calling for a rapid return to the rule of law.
That was in 1977. Almost 45 years later to the day, thousands of people are expected to gather at the same stadium on Thursday for readings of two documents inspired by the original “Letter to the Brazilians”. The two new manifestos defend the country’s democratic institutions and the electronic voting system, which far-right President Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly attacked before his re-election bid.
Although the incumbent is not named in either document, analysts say it is very clear who they are talking to.
They underscore widespread concern that Bolsonaro could follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in rejecting the election results and trying to cling to power. In a country whose democracy is only a few decades old, this specter has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people – even those who previously refrained from being shameless – to sign the letters. The president not only refused to sign, but also downplayed the initiatives.
“We are at risk of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against this to ensure democracy,” José Carlos Dias, a lawyer who helped draft the 1977 letter and the letters, told The Associated Press. two which will be read on Thursday.
The first of the new letters, composed by law school alumni, has received more than 880,000 signatures since it was launched online on July 26. Among them are musicians like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, as well as bankers, executives and high profile presidential candidates. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all polls ahead of the October elections, is one of them.
The other document appeared in newspapers on August 5 and received less public attention, but political analysts told AP it was more important. It is supported by associations representing hundreds of companies in the banking, oil, construction and transport sectors.
Normally reluctant to take public political positions, companies apparently feared that a rollback of democratic standards would be bad for business, said Carlos Melo, professor of political science at Insper University in Sao Paulo.
“The novelty is that sectors that remained neutral, or were even in some way favorable to the president, also signed, because they considered themselves to be in danger,” Melo added. “Democracy is important for the economy.”
Bolsonaro’s commitment to democracy has come under scrutiny since taking office, largely because the former army captain has emphatically glorified three decades of dictatorship. Earlier this year he met with the autocratic leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and Russian Vladimir Putin.
For more than a year, Bolsonaro claimed that electronic voting machines were prone to fraud, although 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.
He has begun to express a desire for greater involvement of the armed forces in election monitoring, and last week army officials visited the headquarters of the electoral authority to inspect the source code of the machines. to vote. Bolsonaro has alleged that some of the top authority figures are working against him.
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, tens of thousands of people gathered at his request, and Bolsonaro told them that only God could remove him from power. He threatened to plunge the nation into an institutional crisis by declaring that he would no longer heed the decisions of a Supreme Court judge. 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 top 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 that 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.
The letters to be read on Thursday – which at any other time might have been a dry exercise relegated to academia – struck a chord in society. In recent days, television channels have broadcast clips of artists reading the commitment to democracy.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has played down concerns and repeatedly dismissed manifestos.
“We don’t need a small letter to say we stand for democracy, to say we will uphold the constitution,” the president told allied politicians on July 27.
Still, concern over Bolsonaro’s rhetoric has spread even among some allies, two Cabinet ministers told AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Ministers said the rallying of Bolsonaro supporters to the streets was justified, but fear his manner of expression could lead some to believe he was inciting violence. They said Bolsonaro’s fiery impulses and reactions have also undermined their efforts to keep the peace between the administration and other institutions.
Bolsonaro’s party has distanced itself from claims that the election could be jeopardized. The party leader 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.
It 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. But support has recently strengthened amid falling unemployment, falling gasoline prices and rising social spending. Some polls indicate that da Silva only has a single-digit lead in the first-round vote. A tight race would make pre-election promises to respect the results all the more relevant.
Independent political analyst Thomas Traumann said he considers the industry-led manifesto the most important document in Brazil since its 1988 constitution.
“There will be people standing up for democracy, which we haven’t seen since the dictatorship,” Traumann said by phone. “Isolating the putschists at this time is very important.”
Álvares reported from Brasília.