RIO DE JANEIRO – Plagued by declining polls, a sputtering economy and judicial investigations, President Jair Bolsonaro called on his supporters to rally across the country on Tuesday, Brazil’s Independence Day, in a show of power that critics fear could be a prelude to seize a power.
In recent days, the president has labeled this moment a turning point for his political movement.
“I have three alternatives in the future: be arrested, be killed or be victorious,” Bolsonaro told supporters last week, referring to next year’s presidential election, which polls show he would lose in a landslide if the vote goes today. would be held. “You can be sure that the first option, jail time, will not happen.”
Many in Brazil see a parallel in Bolsonaro’s actions to those of President Donald J. Trump ahead of the 2020 election, and worry how Brazil, a country with weaker institutions, will face a similar challenge to electoral institutions or an attack like the Jan. 6 riots in the US capital.
A group of more than 150 heads of state, ministers and legislators from 26 countries issued a statement Monday expressing concern that the demonstrations in Brazil had the potential to turn into an “uprising” that undermines democratic standards in the largest possible way. country of Latin America. .
“We are deeply concerned about the immediate threat to Brazil’s democratic institutions,” the statement said.
Bolsonaro has attempted to portray Supreme Court judges and other powerful critics as underhanded thugs setting the stage for the return of his political arch-rival, left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who rose in the polls after the annulment of ent beliefs and the restoration of his political rights.
In recent days, some ardent supporters of the president have called for the dissolution of the Supreme Court. Critics of Bolsonaro fear that such rhetoric could lead to political violence, including attacks on the court in Brasília.
Speaking to supporters in Brasília on Tuesday, Bolsonaro scolded a court judge who led investigations that have trapped some of his allies, warning that if the court doesn’t change course, “it could suffer what we don’t.” want .”
Supporters who took to the streets renounced euphemisms and rewrote the president’s vague threat in more specific terms.
“We have to close the court,” said Thays Peneiras, 48, who attended a rally in Rio de Janeiro where she sold masks bearing the image of Mr Bolsonaro. “He wants to rule, but the court won’t let him.”
Under the president’s support are many members of the military police, a force that is supposed to avoid politics in name. But a recent poll showed that three in 10 members of the armed forces planned to take to the streets on Tuesday to support the president.
Bolsonaro has also called on his supporters to take advantage of gun ownership rules he has relaxed to protect himself in the coming months.
He led one of the world’s most chaotic responses to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 584,000 people in Brazil. Unemployment, hunger, inflation, interest rates and inequality have all increased under his watch. To make matters worse, an intense drought has lowered water levels at hydroelectric power plants, leaving the country teetering on the brink of power outages.
The Supreme Court has opened several investigations that have eroded public confidence in Bolsonaro and his government. They include investigations into a vaccine-procurement corruption scandal and the president’s quest to discredit Brazil’s voting system.
This constellation of challenges has turned much of the electorate against Bolsonaro, who railed against polls showing he would lose next year’s presidential election by a wide margin to several potential rivals. The president’s attacks on institutions and the voting system could lead to a democratic rift or a period of deeper instability, opposition leaders say.
“The country is experiencing its worst moment since the dictatorship,” said São Paulo governor João Doria, a hopeful president. said Monday. “There should be no room for flirting with authoritarianism.”
The president’s surrogates said Tuesday’s rallies would be a peaceful show of the will of the people.
“This is a party of democracy!” Damares Alves, the minister for human rights, family and women, said in a post on Instagram, in which she beamed as she greeted protesters who began gathering in Brasília on Monday. “Good citizens, peaceful citizens are coming.”
On Monday evening, protesters overpowered a police barrier near ministries.
Alessandro Molon, an opposition leader in Congress, said he is concerned that by encouraging large and fleeting demonstrations, the president is trying to show how much support he would have if he were to challenge an electoral defeat or ignore the authority of critics in Congress and the judiciary.
“His base is withering, but it is made up of an increasingly radicalized group, which he plans to use to falsely present as a mandate from the majority of the people,” said Mr Molon.
Bolsonaro supporters flooded a coastal road along Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday. In the largely unmasked sea of protesters, some drank beer while chanting that Mr. da Silva deserves to go back to prison.
“I’m sure the thief would only win if there was fraud,” said Waldarcy Braga, 46, an electrician. Braga said he believes the Brazilian press, industry leaders and members of the judiciary are conspiring to sabotage Bolsonaro. “But politics is about mobilizing people, and looking around you.”
During a tense day in the capital, Jason Miller, former senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump, said he had been held at the Brasília airport for three hours as he prepared to leave the country after a conference of conservative leaders.
The newspaper O Globo reported that investigators from the Brazilian federal police wanted to question Mr. Miller as part of an investigation into online disinformation campaigns targeting democratic institutions. Mr Miller, who founded a new social media platform for conservatives, said in a statement that he and his tour group “told them we had nothing to say and were eventually released to fly back to the United States.”
He added: “Our goal to share freedom of expression around the world continues!”
Marcelo Neric, an economist and professor at the Fundação Getulio Vargas, said Tuesday’s demonstrations will certainly tarnish Brazil’s image abroad and give potential investors a break, hampering Brazil’s economic recovery.
“There is no reason to add more instability, with events like tomorrow’s demonstration,” he said.
Annie Karni contributed from Washington.