Brazil's President Bolsonaro 'could be preparing a military COUP', his enemies fear as he calls for huge rally of his supporters
With polls putting Bolsonaro on track to lose badly to leftist ex-leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in next year's presidential elections, Bolsonaro is hoping to use the rally on the country's independence day on Tuesday to energize his supporters.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be a turbulent day, with pro- and anti-Bolsonaro demonstrations scheduled in some of the country's biggest cities.
'The time has come to declare our independence for good, to say we will not allow some people in Brasilia to impose their will on us,' Bolsonaro told supporters last week in a speech. 'The will that matters is yours.'
'Some people in Brasilia' was widely read as a reference to the Supreme Court, which has ordered a series of investigations into Bolsonaro and his inner circle, notably over allegations of systematically spreading fake news from within the government.
Bolsonaro has responded by declaring all-out political war on justices he perceives as hostile. He has signaled that the judges should consider Tuesday's rallies an 'ultimatum' - the latest in a long list of ominous warnings aimed at Congress and the courts.
Bolsonaro plans to attend rallies in both Brasilia and economic capital Sao Paulo that day, which marks 199 years since Brazil declared independence from Portugal.
An influential group of left-wing former presidents, prime ministers and political figures have written an open latter claiming the rallies amount to a military coup.
The group wrote an open letter which claims the marches, which involve military police, public officials and white supremacist groups are 'stoking fears of a coup in the world's third largest democracy', reports The Guardian.
The letter, signed by political figures including Spain's former prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Paraguay's former president Fernando Lugo and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, warned of an 'imminent threat' to democracy.
The signatories, which also include former UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, noted that on August 10, Bolsonaro 'directed an unprecedented military parade through the capital city of Brasília, as his allies in Congress pushed sweeping reforms to the country's electoral system that he says are critical before the presidential elections next year'.
Bolsonaro later said that the marches were for a 'necessary countercoup' against the Supreme Court and Congress.
The open letter warned: 'Members of Congress in Brazil have warned that the 7 September mobilisation has been modelled on the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, when then-president Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to 'stop the steal' with false claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential elections.
'We are gravely concerned about the imminent threat to Brazil's democratic institutions – and we stand vigilant to defend them ahead of 7 September and after. The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule. Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now.'
The 66-year-old ex-army captain, who is often compared to former US president Donald Trump, vowed to draw a crowd of more than two million to Sao Paulo's Avenida Paulista.
That would be far bigger than his recent rallies, which have had turnout in the tens of thousands.
Bolsonaro is playing 'all or nothing' in his fight with Congress, the courts and the electoral system, said political scientist Geraldo Monteiro of Rio de Janeiro State University. Bolsonaro has alleged that there is a risk of massive fraud in next year's elections.
'Each side is looking to show what it's got in its arsenal. The Bolsonaro camp is putting everything they've got into these rallies,' he told AFP.
'The question is whether they'll get a significant number of people in the street. I think it will be a watershed moment. If the rallies are big, it will in some ways tip the scale in the president's favor. If they're not, the crisis will continue, but 'Bolsonarismo' might go into a downward spiral.'
Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux voiced concern Thursday over the tone, in which the rallies are being organized.
'In a democracy, demonstrations are peaceful, and freedom of speech should not be synonymous with threats or violence,' he said.
Hard-core Bolsonaro supporters at such rallies often include off-duty police and gun-toting fans of his tough talk, meaning there is a 'real risk of violence,' said political consultant Andre Rosa.
'Bolsonaro supporters are very reactionary, they're going to want to go to war,' he said.
'The president can't control it if there's violence. He's taking a calculated risk.'
Security officials are trying to ensure the rival camps stay apart.
The pro-Bolsonaro march in Brasilia will be held on the Esplanade of Ministries, the avenue leading to the square flanked by the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court.
The square itself will be closed.
The anti-Bolsonaro march in Brasilia will depart from the capital's iconic TV tower, around three kilometers (less than two miles) away.
In Sao Paulo, the anti-Bolsonaro march will be held in the city center, around five kilometers (three miles) from where the president's supporters will rally.
It is a risky strategy for Bolsonaro at a time when polls put his approval rating at an all-time low of around 23 percent and soaring unemployment and inflation have hampered the pandemic recovery of Latin America's biggest economy.
The president also risks alienating key allies, such as speaker of Congress Arthur Lira, who has so far shielded Bolsonaro from scores of impeachment attempts.
'If turmoil erupts, the president knows he'll be the only one who loses,' Lira said.