Brazilian democracy faces a moment of “immense danger”, a manifesto signed by almost a million citizens has warned amid growing fears president Jair Bolsonaro could refuse to accept defeat in October’s election.
The declaration – whose backers include major figures in business, politics, science and the arts – comes after Bolsonaro escalated his attacks on Brazil’s voting system and summoned hardcore supporters to hit the streets “for the last time” before the 2 October vote.
Bolsonaro’s actions have fueled fears the radical far-right populist may seek to emulate his political idol, Donald Trump, by contesting the election result or inciting a January 6-style insurrection in a bid to retain power. Polls suggest Bolsonaro will lose to the leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in either the first or second round.
The manifesto, which is inspired by a historic 1977 declaration denouncing Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship, says the country is facing “a moment of immense danger to democratic normality”. Any attempt to incite violence or promote “a rupture with constitutional order” would be “intolerable”, it warns.
“We recently saw how authoritarian follies put the United States’ centuries-old democracy at risk. There, efforts to disrupt democracy and people’s faith in the reliability of the [electoral] process did not succeed, and nor will they here,” says the document, whose signatories include three former presidents and musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Brazil’s biggest pop star, Anitta. She has described October’s election as a battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore, with Bolsonaro representing JK Rowling’s Dark Lord.
On Thursday morning hundreds of pro-democracy campaigners assembled at the University of São Paulo’s law school to hear the manifesto – which Bolsonaro has belitted as “some little letter” – read publicly for the first time.
Simultaneous readings took place in cities across the country, including Belo Horizonte and Rio, as well as at foreign universities such as King’s College London. Hundreds of acts and protests were planned.
Large crowds of students, activists and academics packed Rio’s Catholic University to hear the pronouncement, flanked by banners reading: ‘Democracy is life’.
“Brazil is facing a critical moment. We are under threat from the far-right … this is perhaps the most important election of our lifetimes,” said Carlos Fidelis Ponte, a 64-year-old researcher from Brazil’s Fiocruz research institute.
“Bolsonaro’s re-election would be a total disaster. I feel I am living in a country that has been hijacked,” Ponte said.
“This is something historic. It is an important moment to resist,” said Maria Clara Walcacer, a 22-year-old psychology student who had come wearing a lilac sticker that read “Bolsonaro out!”
The former Brazil footballer and longtime democracy advocate Walter Casagrande said he hoped the “anti-coup” manifesto would prove a historic turning point comparable to the Diretas Já movement which helped usher out the dictatorship in the 1980s.
“[Bolsonaro] claims he is defending democracy and wants freedom. He doesn’t want anything of the kind. On the contrary. He wants to be a dictator,” said Casagrande, although he predicted Bolsonaro would fail to achieve that goal.
Another signatory, the singer-songwriter Nando Reis, said he had signed to protest the “terror and destruction” Bolsonaro had inflicted on South America’s largest democracy since taking office in 2019. “We have been through three years and eight months of hell with this man in the presidency.”
Reis voiced hope citizens would vote out Bolsonaro but, like many, fears he will not go quietly: “If he loses the election it is very likely that he will contest the vote. Everything he says is paving the way for this.”
Bolsonaro’s posturing, which included summoning foreign ambassadors last month to denigrate his own country’s electronic voting system with false information, has also caused international alarm.
The former US ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon, said: “I’m very concerned by the effort of president Bolsonaro and his team to undermine the credibility of the institutions and the processes by which elections are conducted in Brazil. For me that can only have one purpose, which is to try to prevent an election from happening or change their course or outcome.”
“Bolsonaro and his team have looked very closely at what happened on January 6 trying to understand why it was that a sitting president failed in his effort to overturn election results,” added Shannon, who called the pro-democracy mobilization an important step towards convincing Bolsonaro to rethink any possible intervention.
If Bolsonaro realized none of the major political institutions and the armed forces would support a bid to halt or meddle in the vote “then he might decide for his own well-being that there’s nothing he has to do but let the election play out”.
“But if he thought there was a way he could intervene – to intervene successfully – he would,” Shannon warned.
August 11, 2022 at 08:35PM Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro