Analysis. Beyond attacking judicial figures, Bolsonaro tried everything he could think of on Brazil’s Independence Day to get out of the corner he is in.

Still losing in the polls, Bolsonaro tries a show of force

On the eve of the stormiest September 7 in Brazil’s recent history, many have asked themselves the question: how long will the attacks on democracy be tolerated? How can a president be allowed to take advantage of the Brazilian Independence Day to explicitly threaten the institutions of the state, and keep the whole country on edge?

In the first of the two speeches he made on Tuesday—at the time of writing, the demonstrations were still ongoing—Bolsonaro chose to put on a highbrow tone: “I will continue to act within the confines of the Constitution, but from now on I will no longer allow other people—one or two of them—to operate outside of them,” he said during the flag salute ceremony in front of the Palácio da Alvorada, the official residence of the presidency.

The “one or two” he was alluding to are the Minister of the Supreme Federal Court, Alexandre de Moraes, against whom Bolsonaro had already filed an (unsuccessful) motion for impeachment for “having gone beyond constitutional prerogatives,” and the president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, Luis Roberto Barroso, accused of blocking his offensive—likewise failed—to introduce a mandatory paper trail for voting.

Bolsonaro also railed against Moraes in his speech to his supporters in the Esplanada dos Ministérios, in the center of Brasilia, which had been invaded since the previous day by buses and trucks full of Bolsonaristas, allowed in by the military police despite the blockade protecting the Praça dos Três Poderes.

“We cannot admit that one person would put our freedom at risk,” said the president in front of at least 20,000 supporters. “Either the head of the judiciary will intervene, or else this power could suffer that which we don’t want,” he continued, urging the president of the Supreme Court, Luis Fux, to intervene and overrule Moraes—which would be unconstitutional. He added that he would convene a meeting of the Council of the Republic on Wednesday, an advisory body called to deliberate in moments of crisis.

Beyond the attack on Moraes and Barroso, on Tuesday Bolsonaro was trying everything he could to get out of the corner he is in (whether he’s had any success remains to be seen). Because everything seems to be going wrong for him: the judicial investigations against him and his family, with his sons Flávio and Carlos neck-deep in a scandal of misappropriation of the salaries of phantom employees, inflation, unemployment, the return of food shortages and one of the worst water crises in the country’s history, including the risk of electricity rationing; the over 583,000 deaths from the pandemic, for which the responsibility of his government is recognized by the entire world; and, finally, the polls, which are painting a merciless picture of the collapse of his popularity, with 62% of those surveyed saying they would not vote for him in the next elections and former president Lula beating him by a large margin, 55% against 30%.

Against this backdrop, Bolsonaro tried to put on a show of force, counting in particular on the support of evangelical pastors, the military police and the reserve military (but also soldiers on active duty, despite the ban on participating in political activity): he wanted to bring an ocean-sized crowd to the Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, hopefully larger than the “Fora Bolsonaro” (“Out with Bolsonaro”) demonstrations planned in 160 cities. In his own words, this was supposed to serve as a “photograph for the world,” a proof that he can still control everything. However, at the time of writing, there was already talk on social media about the event being a flop: the “sea of people” expected had not materialized.

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