Brazil democracy at the crossroads | By Dr Imran Khalid


Brazil democracy at the crossroads

IT was expected. But it was not expected that the Three Powers Plaza would be targeted. Many analysts were predicting a new wave of violence just after the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential race, but it did not happen at that time.

However, as soon as Brazilian President LuizInacio Lula da Silva took oath on the eve of the New Year, rumours started making rounds about massive clashes between the supporters of both leaders.

And within one week, it was proven to be right. It happened, but one-sided only- thousands of supporters of Bolsonaro attacked the Three Powers Plaza, which houses the Supreme Court, Presidential Palace and Congress on Sunday last.

Nobody expected this kind of gruesome ransacking of the Three Powers Plaza. It was a stunning security breach that was reminiscent of the 6 January invasion of the US Capitol in the aftermath of the defeat of Donald Trump – as if the supporters of Bolsonaro deliberately planned to “celebrate” the anniversary of the American episode in a Brazilian style.

The similar timing of the events has led analysts to draw parallel between the two events. Many media reports suggest that military police actually did not offer any resistance to the pro-Bolsonaro mob when it was marching towards three branches of the Brazilian government.

President Lula was quite blunt on this kind of ineptitude – apparently deliberate – on the part of the military police.

Lula said capital law enforcement bodies showed “incompetence, bad faith or malice” and promised swift action against all those involved in facilitating this incident, the worst ever since the military coup in 1964.

The interesting part is that the mobsters, who were protesting against the so-called rigged October 30 presidential runoff, also called for a military coup d’état, demanding that the election victory of LuizInácio Lula da Silva be overturned and the leftwing leader be imprisoned.

There is a high probability of indirect involvement of some pro-Bolsonaro elements in the top brass of the military leadership in this act of violence, further indicating a new kind of polarization in Brazil where the military is on the side of Bolsonaro while the judiciary is supporting Lula.

Thousands of pro-Bolsonaro extremists have refused to accept Lula’s narrow victory in October’s election, spending recent weeks camping outside army bases across the country and calling for a military coup.

On the other hand, after the Sunday incident, the Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered Ibaneis Rocha, the pro-Bolsonaro Governor of the federal district, where Brasília is located, to be removed from his post for 90 days amid outrage that authorities had failed to prevent the attack.

Analysts and reporters are suggesting that the attacks could only have happened with the “acquiescence, or even direct involvement, of public security and intelligence authorities.

” Lula is certainly a beneficiary of the judiciary’s soft heart for him. The 2019 Brazilian Supreme Court ruling—by a narrow majority—to release Mr.da Silva from prison was quite shocking for his political opponents.

The public had cheered prosecutors who convicted him in 2017 on corruption charges and who unraveled a wider multimillion-dollar kickback scheme orchestrated by his Workers’ Party.

The mega scandal involved businessmen, congressmen on both sides of the aisle, the state-owned oil company, the national development bank and many foreign governments.

The evidence against Lula was quite tangible and solid and his conviction had been validated by two appeals courts.

But the High Court reversed its own precedents and annulled the decision. Lula was released but never exonerated.

Judicial activism has been continuously manoeuvring political fabric and casting its shadow on the power struggle among different stakeholders.

Interestingly, during the most recent campaign, the electoral tribunal—which included three High Court justices— bowdlerized Lula’s critics, including a former Supreme Court justice, who was questioning Lula’s candidacy on the basis of his legal status.

The same tribunal also censored the right-wingers under the pretext of its “special advisory to combat disinformation.”

So, lines are clearly drawn in Brazil. Not surprisingly, Bolsonaro, who flew out of the country just before the inauguration of President Lula and is staying in Florida these days, has denied the charges of his involvement in the incident through his favorite communication tool – twitter – and stopped short of condemning this attack by his supporters.

“Throughout my mandate, I have always stayed within the four lines of the Constitution, respecting and defending laws, democracy, transparency and our sacred freedom.

In addition, I reject the baseless accusations attributed to me by the current head of the executive branch in Brazil,” Bolsonaro wrote in his tweets.

But he did not condemn or criticize the vandalism of his supporters in clear terms. The fact is that, after securing the presidential contest, Lula has been exhibiting a lot of conciliatory approach towards his political opponents.

So far, he has been trying to calm down his fans in the face of incessant provocations by the Bolsonaro supporters.

But, after the incident in Brasilia, President Lula is likely to reverse his approach towards his predecessor and handle the protestors with much more stringent measures.

He has already indicated an iron-fist approach and told the media that “all the people who did this will be found and punished.

” The botched coup, albeit ill-planned, has given a very turbulent and chaotic start to Lula’s presidency.

Luckily, the Congress was not in session at the time of far-right extremists, otherwise the episode could have been uglier and bloodier – catapulting the country into another mess.

The positive thing is the international support for democracy in Brazil, including US President Biden’s solidarity message for Lula.

It would be quite difficult for President Lula, whose party does not enjoy a majority in the Congress, to apprehend the masterminds and facilitators of this half-cooked attempt to overturn his presidency.

His position is still vulnerable because the complex power struggle in Brazil will not subside easily- signaling more violence in the coming days.

—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.