Brazil: A weakened but resilient democracyMarch 24, 2023 in Brazil
Democracy in Brazil does not seem to be in danger despite the upheavals of 8 January and it is highly unlikely that a coup d’état supported by the Brazilian army will take place in the coming months despite the democratic concerns expressed internationally. Jair Bolsonaro’s announcement in a newspaper on 14 February that he will return to Brazil in March, while raising fears of further splits in an already divided population, should not have a significant short or medium-term impact on Lula Da Silva’s government.
On 30 October 2022, Leftist Lula Da Silva, who had already held the post twice from 2003 to 2011, was elected for a third time President of Brazil by defeating the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro with only 50.90% of the vote. Jair Bolsonaro had not admitted his defeat and sowed doubt in the electoral process, as his supporters demonstrated around the country. Nevertheless, he never asked the Supreme Court or Congress to intervene to overturn the results. Some time afterwards, on 26 December, the police arrested George Washington, suspected of having planted a bomb to commit an attack near Brasilia airport, a few days before the presidential inauguration. This situation worried observers who feared that the inauguration of Lula Da Silva on 1 January 2023 would be disrupted, or even that there was a deeper plot. No disruptive events were observed on that day, apart from the absence of Jair Bolsonaro himself who refused to participate in the transfer of power by flying to Florida (US) at the end of December.
Nevertheless, on 8 January, several hundred demonstrators supporting the former farright president invaded and degraded high places of power in the capital such as the Congress, the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court. The demonstrators later asked the army to intervene because they felt despoiled by the elections. The ease with which the protesters were able to act raised fears of collusion on the part of the security services. Quickly after what happened, nearly 1,500 people were arrested by the authorities, including several high ranking officials, such as Ibaneis Rocha, the governor of Brasilia, Anderson Torres, former head of Brasília’s public security, and Colonel Fábio Augusto Vieira, police commander. On 11 February, Major Flávio Silvestre de Alencar, Colonel Jorge Eduardo Naime, Captain Josiel Pereira Cesar and Lieutenant Rafael Pereira Martins, all involved in the infrastructure security during the riots, were also arrested. Lula Da Silva had publicly attacked Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of being involved in the outbursts. The latter denied any responsibility. The former president is known for its close relationship with the police and especially the army, which is favourable to him and has played a large role in the country’s history, and still has influence even after the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. This proximity has led to fears that the military may become involved, as some of the pro-Bolsonaro protesters asked the army to intervene. These riots shocked the international community but also the Brazilians themselves, 76% of whom said they were against these excesses. The population as a whole remains in favour of safeguarding democratic institutions. There is no indication of a possible coup, as the army has even ignored calls from protesters to intervene in the country’s politics.
On 14 February, Jair Bolsonaro indicated that he wanted to return to Brazil in March to resume politics, raising fears of a new surge of demonstrations and tension in an already politically divided Brazil. But the far-right politician should expect legal proceedings from the authorities on his return, as the Supreme Court included him in the list of suspects for its investigations into the uprisings. Moreover, the former president is accused of corruption in multiple cases, including of crime against the indigenous people, whom he did not protect during his mandate. Indeed, on 6 February, Marina Silva, Environment Minister, declared that former President Jair Bolsonaro should be investigated for genocide, while the authorities declared a state of medical emergency in the Yanomami reserve, near the border with Venezuela. Indigenous people under Jair Bolsanaro’s term have suffered from a lack of governmental security involvement that has led to an increase in violence, sometimes resulting in rape or murder from criminal gangs. These additional charges, despite his relative popularity, could well harm his ability to credibly lead an opposition to Lula Da Silva.