Analysis. The president proposed to entrust the military with a parallel audit of the vote, sending danger signs about the level of the country’s democratic resilience.

The army is with Bolsonaro, putting Brazil at risk of a coup

This is one of the most recurring themes in the Brazilian political debate: the possibility – which many consider a certainty – that after the October 2 presidential elections, Bolsonaro will accept no other outcome than his own victory, although it is unlikely that he will win re-election. If there is any doubt about this, it has to do only with the timing of his expected coup attempt: whether he’ll try it before or after the elections, and the role the armed forces will play in it.

Certainly, his repeated attacks on the electoral system are aimed at muddying the electoral waters, and keeping the base mobilized and ready to act, despite the fact that his move to introduce paper ballots failed in the House of Representatives as early as August 2021.

But now the military has also come to support Bolsonaro, an institution that hasn’t been so prominent on the Brazilian scene since the end of the dictatorship. The president even proposed to entrust the military with a parallel audit of the vote. This sent out an immediate danger signal about the level of the country’s democratic resilience.

As early as 2018, it was clear that the military was taking on a more pronounced political role, arrogating to itself the right to intervene in the event of a crisis between the powers or social unrest. Back then, on the eve of Lula’s arrest, General Eduardo Villas Bôas had not hesitated to utter veiled threats of armed force intervention in the event of a Supreme Court ruling that was favorable to the former president.

And Dilma Rousseff also sounded the alarm last year, warning against the error of “assuming that it will be easy to take 11,000 military personnel out of the government and return them to the barracks.”

And whether the troops loyal to him number 11,000 or “only” 6,000, as indicated by a 2021 report from the Tribunal de Contas da União, there is no doubt that at least some of them are intervening in the campaign with a heavy hand, espousing Bolsonaro’s criticism of the electronic voting system that also led him to be elected to the country’s leadership. When confronted with the latter fact, the president retorts by claiming, obviously without any evidence, that the 2014 elections were won by Dilma only thanks to electoral fraud, and that without fraud, he would have won the presidency in 2018 already in the first round.

Nor did it help that the Superior Electoral Tribunal (SET), headed by Edson Fachin, created an Electoral Transparency Commission with the participation not only of Congress and various civil society organizations, but also of the armed forces, which were thus granted the right to have a voice on the elections. And the public pronouncements from the part of the military close to Bolsonaro have been virtually uninterrupted: in the past eight months, they made as many as 88 criticisms on alleged weaknesses of the electronic voting system, all toeing the line of Bolsonaro’s verbiage – and all refuted by the SET at length in a 700-page response.

No wonder, then, that according to the Brazilian press, Lula’s advisers have intensified informal contacts with the top brass of the armed forces about the risk of a coup if Bolsonaro is defeated, receiving ample reassurances in this regard: they were told that the part of the military which is aligned with the current president would not have the strength to push for an institutional collapse. Especially since, according to a Datafolha poll, 82 percent of the population is confident in the reliability of electronic voting: 13 points higher than in December 2020.

In order to avert possible coup plans, some within the Senate and among civil society organizations are actively mobilizing; and even the moderate Fachin has taken a sharper tone against the military’s “suggestions” for once: on the subject of electoral justice, he said that “the Electoral Tribunal has the last word. And so it will be during my presidency.”

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