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June 4, 2020

BRAZIL: Pro-democracy drive arises amid pandemic, but path ahead is uncertain

BY Mario Marconini

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( 3 mins)

As previously noted, the future of President Jair Bolsonaro hinges on a number of factors ranging from the outcome of investigations against him, his family and his entourage, to the perception of his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Under current conditions, he may indeed fulfill his mandate and go for re-election in 2022. Polls have consistently pointed to a hard-core support for his government between one quarter and one third of the population – a level that in principle can shield him from successful prosecution by Congress or the Supreme Court (STF). New conditions need to surface to break the current political inertia. Bolsonaro was elected with close to 60mn votes, over 55% of the electorate. To deconstruct his electoral success in the present, one needs to show that there is now a majority that strongly opposes him. Only then would institutions feel legitimatized to move against the president.

Signs have begun to emerge that a visible majority may be in the making. Polls now show that rejection overtook approval by a factor of two, with up to 54% of the population disapproving of Bolsonaro’s government, the highest level so far. More than 130 institutions have supported a manifesto entitled “Together for democracy and life” where the president is singularly admonished for “grave and systematic attacks against the foundations of democratic life”. Other manifestos, including one by lawyers and jurists called “Basta!” (“Enough!”), and another by hundreds of personalities including former presidents called “We are together”, also emerged last week. To top if all off, protestors took to the streets over the weekend in Sao Paulo’s iconic Avenida Paulista to protest in favor of democracy.

These are all irrefutable signs that segments of society are bothered by what they see. There is, however, no consensus among those protesting, whether in manifestos or on the streets, that impeachment is imperative. Most seem to seek a movement strong enough to counter the president’s perceived autocratic ways and any real threat of disruption in the current democratic process. The president has been called genocidal in the manifestos for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. To many, his lack of compassion for suffering families who lost loved ones to Covid-19 and an unstoppable willingness to defend his own family from ongoing cases at the STF combine to produce an unacceptable situation.

The unity that is apparent amongst the eleven STF judges regarding the need to combat threats against democracy is unprecedented. A court that has grown to be seriously divided in dealing with important matters such as imprisonment after the first appeal, has now coalesced into a visibly strong pro-democracy front. Most importantly, this renewed stamina of the court, combined with the impetus of civil society against constitutional abuses, has made it all the more difficult for Augusto Aras, the Prosecutor-General, to simply file away cases that affect the president and his entourage regarding interference in the federal police or the support of fake news rings out of the presidency. If such a trend continues, it may even become difficult for House Speaker Rodrigo Maia to discard the more than forty requests for a presidential impeachment he has received. So far, he has only filed one away.

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