Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians demonstrated across the country on Tuesday in support of far-right populist President Jair Bolsonaro and his embattled administration, as they called for the removal of Supreme Court justices.
The demonstrations, encouraged by Bolsonaro, who later verbally confronted the court in speeches at two separate rallies, will likely exacerbate a crisis between the executive and the judiciary that has escalated in recent months.
“Either the head of this power lines up or this power can suffer what we don’t want,” said the former army captain at a demonstration in the capital Brasilia on Tuesday morning, in what was widely considered a non-threatening threat. specified against the court.
In recent months, the Supreme Court has authorized investigations into Bolsonaro and his allies for alleged attacks on Brazil’s democratic institutions.
“They release the bandits [from prison] and arrest the conservatives,” hospital worker Carlos Alberto Juliao, 45, who attended a pro-Bolsonaro demonstration in Sao Paulo, said of the court.
Amid mounting scandals, rising inflation, high unemployment and one of the worst death toll from COVID-19 in the world, Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have plunged to record lows.
Elections are scheduled for October next year and opinion polls suggest that Bolsonaro would lose by a wide margin to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers Party, if he decides to run.
Other candidates from the left or center-right, such as the former governor of the northeastern state of Ceará, Ciro Gomes, or the current governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, would also beat Bolsonaro in a second round, the polls suggest.
However, the far-right leader has hinted that he will refuse to accept defeat if Brazil’s electronic voting system is not switched to paper ballots, a demand that was recently rejected in Congress.
Bolsonaro has insisted, without proof, that the electronic system is vulnerable to fraud, a claim rejected by judicial and other experts, and that critics say is part of a plan to challenge next year’s election results.
“Only God will get me out of Brasilia,” he told a crowd of 114,000 supporters on Sao Paulo’s Avenida Paulista on Tuesday afternoon, according to estimates by local military police.
The demonstrations were attended by protesters wearing the Canarian and green colors of the Brazilian flag, and some carried placards and banners calling for “military invention with Bolsonaro as president.”
Bolsonaro himself is an outspoken defender of the 1964-1985 Brazilian military dictatorship, during which hundreds of political opponents of the regime were assassinated and thousands more tortured.
With political tensions high in Brazil, fears of violent clashes similar to the riots that broke out in the United States Capitol on January 6 had risen in the run-up to the protests.
However, in the end, the unrest was mostly limited to some Bolsonaro supporters trying to break through police barricades in the capital Brasilia before being repulsed with pepper spray.
Participation, although not small, was also lower than expected in Sao Paulo and Brasilia.
While the president may have gotten a temporary boost after the protests by revitalizing his staunch supporters, few analysts see his re-election prospects improving.
“In the end, what counts is reality. And the reality today is one of inflation, overpricing of food and fuel, energy crisis and an increase in the population in poverty and social vulnerability, ”said Naue de Azevedo, a political scientist based in the Brazilian capital.