São Paulo, July 20. Jair Bolsonaro seems determined to go down in the history books not just as a bad president, but as a mad one too.
40 ambassadors summoned to the Alvorada Palace last Monday for what was officially described as an exchange of ideas about the elections, instead watched in astonishment as Bolsonaro unveiled a PowerPoint presentation purporting to show how Brazil’s electoral system is riddled with fraud. In other words, the same system that elected him is not fit for purpose.
When the president finished his presentation and a 45-minute harangue attacking Supreme Court judges and the PT’s Lula, who leads the polls for the forthcoming presidential election, they sat in stunned silence, either waiting for the president to offer his resignation, or possibly for men in white coats to appear and lead him off.
The chiefs of the Armed Forces had wisely not accepted the invitation to take part, otherwise they would probably have felt obliged to arrest the president for high treason, accusing his own country’s voting system of fraud.
Brazil’s voting system is in fact highly regarded, so much so that the American embassy immediately released a communiqué calling it a ‘model for the world’, and the UK embassy followed suit.
Bolsonaro’s mind-boggling attempt to internationally discredit the Brazilian elections with proven lies and distortions of facts, just over two months before they are due to be held on 3 October, provoked an avalanche of criticisms.
Dissent came not just from opposition parties, but from scores of public prosecutors, judges and even from three federal police associations, who felt obliged to declare that they had never found evidence of fraud in their investigations of the system, which has been in place for 26 years.
The staff of the national intelligence agency, ABIN, also felt the need to chip in and say that fraud had never been detected in the system of electronic urns used in Brazil.
Seasoned diplomats spoke of their shame, civil organizations spoke of the attack on democracy from a president who, faced with the real possibility of defeat, announces to the world that he will not admit losing the election.
There were calls for his impeachment for the various crimes his behaviour involved, although everyone knows that the president of the chamber of deputies, Artur Lira, is a Bolsonaro ally, and will just add any new demand to the pile of over 150 he already has in his drawer.
Bolsonaro’s campaign to discredit the voting system, and therefore classify as fraud any result which fails to make him the winner, is only part of his three-pronged strategy to win the elections, by fair means or foul.
The two other prongs are: increasing benefits for the poorest sectors of the population, who currently favour Lula in the polls. But these benefits only go to about 8 million people while the number of those going hungry is calculated at 33 million.
The third method is to encourage violence and intimidation by his most fervent supporters, known as bolsonaristas, against opposition supporters, especially those of the PT, while disclaiming any responsibility for the results. A few days ago in Foz do Iguaçu a man shouting ‘Here’s Bolsonaro’ invaded the birthday party of the local treasurer of the PT party and shot him dead.
Bolsonaro deliberately relaxed Brazil’s gun laws, which were tightened up after a national plebiscite in 2005, allowing so-called collectors to own scores of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He removed the Army’s previous obligation to register and track guns. This has led to a huge increase in the number of Brazilians who possess weapons. It is reckoned that every day since he came to power, a shooting club has been opened.
Bolsonaro is obviously counting on support from the Armed Forces for his possible attempt to steal the election. But their reaction to Monday’s meeting with the ambassadors has shown that this was a step too far, and while he might have the unwavering allegiance of the ‘palace generals’ who are members of his government, he cannot count on blind support from the military for his wilder plans.
Generals have been making it known to those who sound them out, that they will respect the winner of October’s poll, whoever he is. Meanwhile there are real fears for the safety of Lula as violence increases. A gang of muscular, truculent bolsonaristas broke up an opposition march in Rio. A drone was used to spray pesticides over a PT rally in Minas Gerais.
Bolsonaro’s attempt to sell to the assembled ambassadors his lies about fraud in a system universally recognized as safe, might well have backfired, and revealed him instead as a deranged obsessive bent on winning re-election by hook or by crook.
Main image: cartoon from The Brazilian Report.