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June 25, 2020

BRAZIL: Evidence is king and may still change the course of politics

BY Mario Marconini

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( 3 mins)

As signaled here previously, fear of a possible annulment of the Bolsonaro-Mourao ticket at the electoral court (TSE), albeit serious from a cursory look, did not justify veiled threats by top-brass military presidential advisors of “institutional instability” – widely read as an Armed Forces-backed takeover of the government. This week one of six cases against the ticket in the court was shelved (relating to the illegal use of outdoor public advertisements during the 2018 campaign); this reveals the difficulty in establishing the true effects of any wrongdoing on the election results. This may also be the case in relation to charges of text robot messaging and an unlawful recourse to communications networks.

The apparent removal of the threat of a TSE condemnation, combined with the arrest on 18 June of a close Bolsonaro family friend, Fabricio Queiroz, in the context of investigations against the president’s oldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, has produced a revealing change in attitudes and strategies on the part of both the president and his VP. Both became silent. While the VP may have felt “free again” since he would no longer be implicated in any wrongdoing by the TSE, the president felt the blow and recoiled.

As expected, the Supreme Court (STF) has indeed kept the pressure on the president and has so far ordered the arrest of a radical anti-democracy protestor and the search and seizure of pro-Bolsonaro bloggers and federal representatives involved in disseminating fake news. In addition, Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras, formerly perceived as an ally of the president, followed suit and broke the bank secrecy of eleven Bolsonaro allies who are suspected of organizing and financing anti-democracy protests. All these initiatives refer to damning cases for the president that are currently under investigation.

If just one week ago the president seemed confident that the military top-brass in his government were behind him, it now seems that he has been left to deal with his own and his family’s troubles by himself. The case against Flavio, which involves the appropriation of the salary of many of his employees, both fake and real, may affect the president insofar as it may reveal details about how the Bolsonaro family has operated in much of their political life, including a too-close-for-comfort history with vigilante militias, for example. The president only started to deny such history once the public began to awake to the atrocities committed by vigilante militias.

An impeachment remains unlikely for a number of reasons but much will continue to hinge on the president’s renewed capacity to remain uncharacteristically serene and discreet – and thus avoid unnecessary bickering. He certainly seems to have realized that he is no longer the strongest link in the chain of possible events. The institutions that he has so often attacked have moved quickly to put him squarely in his place. Whether he stays there, however, will in turn hinge on the evidence that may be produced against him, without which Congress will not move an inch to pursue his impeachment. Evidence in that sense is king and its magnitude may still move the dial on the president’s future.

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