Brazilians celebrate Independence Day amid fears Bolsonaro’s election loss could lead to unrest

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro calls Wednesday’s Independence Day a chance to celebrate the country’s proud history, but critics say he has turned what should be a day of unity into a campaign event they fear he is using to undermine next month’s elections in Latin America’s largest democracy. .

Bolsonaro, who is trailing in the polls ahead of the Oct. 2 vote, urged Brazilians to flood the streets, and tens of thousands of his supporters were expected to march to Brasilia, São Paulo and his hometown of Rio de Janeiro in a demonstration of strength. The armed forces were organizing military demonstrations in the capital and in Rio, in the presence of Bolsonaro.

The far-right nationalist has made it his mission for years to encourage Brazilian patriotism and has co-opted the national colors of green and yellow as his own.

He has tasked his administration with military officers and repeatedly sought their support, most recently to cast doubt on the reliability of the country’s electronic voting system.

His attacks on the electoral system have sparked widespread concern among his opponents that he may be following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump in rejecting the election results.

Bolsonaro opponents march through Rio de Janeiro during the country’s Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday. (Bruna Prado/Associated Press)

“Bolsonaro and his supporters have made this the most important day of the entire campaign, so he will have to deliver some kind of red meat,” said Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. . “But everyone wants to know if he will cross that line and create a real institutional crisis.”

Bolsonaro arrived at the first event of the day, the military exhibition in Brasilia, accompanied by his wife – as well as some of the business executives who reportedly participated in a private panel discussion that included comments favoring a possible coup State and military involvement in politics.

The crowd, decked out in green and yellow, chanted against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the poll favorite who is seeking to regain the post he held from 2003 to 2010.

Speaking at a rally immediately afterwards, Bolsonaro made no reference to Brazil’s fight for independence and instead focused on its achievements while slamming da Silva’s Workers’ Party.

A few thousand protesters also gathered on the main boulevard in downtown Sao Paulo. Due to a downpour and Bolsonaro not being scheduled, turnout was a fraction of last year.

Later, Bolsonaro will witness another military display in Rio along Copacabana Beach – where his supporters often stage protests.

Bolsonaro supporters celebrate the 200th anniversary of Brazil’s independence along Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. (Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images)

This display – and a public celebration – had been moved from the city center, where Independence Day parades usually take place.

The president initially announced that there would also be a parade this year, but Rio’s mayor and military leaders opted for the more modest display at the beach site designated by the president.

Attacks on judges, electoral system

Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker for decades before winning the 2018 presidential election, spent most of his first term clashing with Supreme Court justices, some of whom are also prominent members of the electoral authority.

He accused some judges of crippling his administration and favoring da Silva. This has effectively turned these figures and their institutions into enemies of Bolsonaro’s base, which makes up around a quarter of the electorate.

Supporters await Bolsonaro’s arrival for a military parade in Brasilia on Wednesday. (Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images)

When Bolsonaro launched his re-election bid on July 24, he asked his supporters for “one last” show of support on Independence Day. “These few deaf people in black robes need to understand what the voice of the people is,” he said, referring to the judges.

On Wednesday, the National Guard will tighten security outside the Supreme Court building and police will search people at checkpoints around the plaza where the military demonstration and subsequent rally will take place.

Since the start of his campaign, Bolsonaro has softened his tone regarding Independence Day. In the southern city of Curitiba last week, he told his supporters to lower a banner demanding a military coup. And in a TV spot aired on Tuesday, he urged people to participate in the bicentenary “in peace and harmony”.

Carlos Ranulfo de Melo, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said that likely reflected a campaign strategy to avoid heated rhetoric and instead focus on improving the economy.

But Rodrigo Prando, a professor of political science at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, said he expected Bolsonaro to rail against the electronic voting system and the Supreme Court.

Supporters of Brazilian presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva watch Bolsonaro supporters gather on Wednesday ahead of a rally on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. (Ivan Pacheco/AFP/Getty Images)

Fears of political violence

The president is known for his improvised outbursts. At last year’s Independence Day rally, he pushed the country to the brink of institutional crisis by proclaiming he would ignore the rulings of a Supreme Court justice. He later backtracked, saying his comments came in the heat of the moment and the boiling tension was reduced to a simmer.

There have been concerns about political violence. Some of his die-hard supporters tried to storm the Supreme Court last year. In July, a federal prison guard killed a local da Silva Workers’ Party official while celebrating his birthday, and witnesses said he shouted his support for Bolsonaro before pulling the trigger.

The Estadão de S. Paulo newspaper, among others, reported on August 19 that military intelligence had identified risks of pro-Bolsonaro radical movements attempting to infiltrate the bicentennial celebrations to cause unrest and advocate military intervention.

On Wednesday, soldiers stand near cannons before a military parade in Rio de Janeiro. Some of Bolsonaro’s hardline supporters have called for a military coup if he loses next month’s election. (Andre Borges/AFP/Getty Images)

“There is a movement that tries to legitimize a coup if the outcome of the ballot box does not please the bolsonarists,” said Tai Nalon, co-founder of fact-checking agency AosFatos. “You didn’t have that in 2018.”

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