Up to 100,000 supporters of Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro took to the streets on Tuesday.
They are raising the possibility of a move to subvert democracy and block his anticipated defeat in the presidential election scheduled for October next year.
Currently every poll shows that he will lose to ex-president Lula da Silva, founder and leader of the Workers Party. Bolsonaro has presided over a criminal failure to tackle Covid-19, leading to an official death toll of nearly 600,000.
But his supporters have vowed to make sure he stays as president by any means.
And everyone knows about the military regime that took over in a US-backed coup in 1964 and ruled until 1985.
“This is a day for the Brazilian people, who will tell us which way to go,” Bolsonaro said outside the presidential residence on Tuesday.
He began the day’s events, presiding over a flag-raising ceremony and military show of strength. It included an air force flyover, paratroop landing and special forces display.
Bolsonaro has particularly targeted Supreme Court justices who have been investigating the corruption organised by his family and his regime.
And, in an echo of former US president Donald Trump, he has also denounced Brazil’s electronic voting system, saying it is fraudulent. He has threatened to cancel next year’s elections if the system is not amended to include printed paper ballot receipts.
At the rally in the capital of Brasilia protesters were able to break through police lines and surge towards ministry buildings and the Supreme Court.
Bolsonaro supporters say they modelled their actions on the Capitol riot in the US in January.
One of the president’s supporters at the protest said, “The military needs to remove those that aren’t letting our president govern—in the Supreme Court, in the Senate, all of them,”
“The Supreme Court doesn’t protect the constitution, so our military must.”
Large sections of the Brazilian ruling class do not wholeheartedly support Bolsonaro. They fear he might stir up too much resistance and too much economic turbulence. But that should not lead to complacency.
Tuesday’s protests didn’t go unopposed.
Thousands joined anti-Bolsonaro counter-demonstrations despite requests by some left wing leaders to avoid them. They chanted, “Bolsonaro out,” and “impeachment now”.
His government has not only failed over Covid-19 and been steeped in corruption. He has also attacked LGBT+ people and indigenous rights as well as tossing aside environmental protections.
More anti-Bolsonaro protests have been called for this Sunday.
Big mobilisations against the president have the power to push him out and beat back his supporters.