RIO DE JANEIRO ( Associated Press) – Brazilians arrive at a law school in Sao Paulo to hear a manifesto condemning the brutal military dictatorship and calling for an immediate return to the rule of law.
That was 1977. Nearly 45 years later, thousands of people are expected to rally on the same stage on Thursday to read two documents inspired by the original “Letter to the Brazilian People”. Both new manifestos defend the country’s democratic institutions and electronic voting system, which has been repeatedly attacked by right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro ahead of his re-election bid.
Although neither document names the incumbent, analysts say it is not entirely clear to whom they are directed.
They underscore widely held concern Bolsonaro may follow the lead of US President Donald Trump in an attempt to scuttle the election results and cling to power. In a country whose democracy is only decades old, that ghost has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people – even those who previously refrained from sticking their necks out – to sign letters. The president has not only refused to sign, but has also downplayed the initiative.
“We are at risk of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against it to guarantee democracy,” said Jose Carlos Dias, a lawyer who helped write the 1977 letter and two that will be read Thursday, told the Associated Press.
The first of the new letters, composed by law school alumni, has garnered more than 880,000 signatures since its launch online on July 26. They include musicians and high-profile bankers, officials and presidential candidates, including Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all elections before the October election, is one of them.
The other document was published in newspapers on August 5 and received less public attention, but political analysts told the Associated Press that it was more significant. It is supported by associations representing hundreds of companies in the banking, oil, construction and transportation sectors.
Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Insper University in So Paulo, said that while generally against taking a public political stance, companies were clearly concerned that a backslide on democratic norms would be bad for business.
“The novelty is that regions that have been neutral, or were somehow friendly to the president, also signed off, because they saw themselves at risk,” Mello said. “Democracy is vital to the economy.”
Bolsonaro’s commitment to democracy has been under scrutiny since taking office, as the former army captain relentlessly glorified three decades of dictatorship. Earlier this year he met with the autocratic leader Viktor Orban of Hungary and Vladimir Putin of Russia.
For more than a year, Bolsonaro has claimed that electronic voting machines are prone to fraud, although he never presented any evidence. At one point, he threatened to postpone the election if Congress did not approve a bill to introduce printed receipts of votes. bill not passed,
He began to express a desire for greater involvement of the armed forces in election surveillance, and last week, army officials visited the electoral authority’s headquarters to inspect the source code of voting machines. Bolsonaro has alleged that some top officials of the authority are working against him.
When Bolsonaro started his campaignHe called upon the supporters to take to the streets for the Independence Day celebrations of 7 September. On that date last year, thousands of people had gathered at his behest and Bolsonaro told him that only God could remove him from power. He threatened to plunge the country into an institutional crisis by declaring that he would no longer heed the decisions of Supreme Court justices. He later backtracked saying that his remarks were made in the heat of the moment.
Melo said Bolsonaro’s rhetoric resonates with his base, but is alienating him politically.
Since last year, the electoral authority has been proactive in countering claims against the voting system. Its top officials, who are also judges of the Supreme Court, have repeatedly made statements in their defence. Behind the scenes, they are working overtime to recruit aides in the legislature and the private sector, although many were unwilling to echo their public announcements.
A turning point occurred last month, when Bolsonaro summoned foreign ambassadors At the President’s residence to deliver a lecture to him on the perceived weaknesses of the electronic vote. Since then, both congressional leaders and the prosecutor-general, all of whom are believed to be Bolsonaro allies, have expressed confidence in the system’s credibility.
The US also issued a statement with its State Department calling Brazil’s electoral system and democratic institutions “a model for the world” following a meeting of ambassadors the next day. At a conference with regional defense ministers in Brazil’s capital Brasilia in July, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said forces must fulfill their missions responsibly, especially during elections.
The letters read on Thursday – which can be a dry exercise for academics at any time – have struck a chord with society. In recent days television stations have aired clips of artists reciting pro-democracy pledges.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has played down the concerns and repeatedly dismissed the manifestos.
“We don’t need a short letter to say that we defend democracy, to say that we will uphold the Constitution,” the president told politicians concerned on July 27.
Still, concerns about Bolsonaro’s rhetoric have spread even among some aides, two cabinet ministers told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The ministers said it was appropriate for Bolsonaro’s supporters to rally on the streets, but worry his manner of expression might lead some to believe he was inciting violence. He said Bolsonaro’s impulsiveness and violent reactions have also undermined his efforts to maintain peace between the administration and other institutions.
Bolsonaro’s party has distanced itself from claims that the election could be compromised. Party vice-president Augusto Rosa told the Associated Press that the party’s leader sought the chairman of the electoral court to assure him of his faith in the voting system.
It will be an uphill battle for Bolsonaro. More than half of those surveyed by pollster Datafolha said they would not vote for him under any circumstances. But support has increased recently amid low unemployment, low petrol prices and high welfare spending. Some polls say da Silva is below a one point lead in the first round of votes. A closer race would make pre-election promises to honor the results more relevant.
Independent political analyst Thomas Truman said he sees the industry-led manifesto as the most important document in Brazil since its 1988 constitution.
“There will be people defending democracy, who we haven’t seen since the dictatorship,” Truman said over the phone. “It is very important to isolate the coup at this time.”
Alvares reported from Brasilia.