RIO DE JANEIRO ( Associated Press) – Brazilians gathered at the University of Sao Paulo Law School to hear a manifesto condemning the brutal military dictatorship and calling for the return of the rule of law.
That was in 1977. Nearly 45 years later, thousands of people are expected to gather in the same place on Thursday to read two documents inspired by the original “Letter to Brazilians”. The new manifesto defends the country’s democratic institutions and electronic voting system, which far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked before running for re-election.
Although neither of the documents contains the president’s name, analysts say it is very clear who they are targeting.
They underscore widespread concern that Bolsonaro could follow in former US President Donald Trump’s footsteps by discrediting the election results and trying to cling to power. In a country where democracy is only a few decades old, that ghost has encouraged hundreds of thousands of people – even those who previously refrained from speaking in public – to sign letters. The president has not only refused to do so, but has dismissed the initiative.
“We are in danger of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against it to guarantee democracy,” said Jose Carlos Dias, a lawyer who helped draft the 1977 letter and two who Will be read on Thursday. Associated Press on Thursday.
The first of the new texts, prepared by students from the Faculty of Law, has collected more than 880,000 signatures since its online presentation on July 26. Signatories include musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and high-profile bankers, officials and presidential candidates. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is leading the election for October’s elections, is one of them.
The other document was published in the press 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 from the financial, oil, construction and transportation sectors.
Companies, which are generally reluctant to publicly take political stances, are apparently concerned that a rollback of democratic norms will be detrimental to their business, said Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Insper University in So Paulo.
“The novelty is that regions that have been neutral, or that have been friendly to the president in some way, have also signed off because they see themselves at risk,” Mello said. “Democracy is vital to the economy.”
Bolsonaro’s commitment to democracy has come under scrutiny since becoming president, largely because the former army captain has repeatedly glorified three decades of dictatorship. At the beginning of the year, he met with the autocratic leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Bolsonaro has claimed for more than a year that electronic voting machines are prone to fraud, although he has never presented any evidence. At one point, he threatened to postpone the election if Congress did not pass a rule to introduce printed vote receipts. The bill did not proceed.
He began expressing a desire for the armed forces to be more involved in monitoring the elections, and last week army officials visited the electoral authority’s headquarters to inspect the machines’ source code. Bolsonaro has condemned that high-ranking officials of the institution work against him.
Starting his campaign, Bolsonaro called on his supporters to take to the streets to celebrate Independence Day on 7 September. Last year, on that date, thousands of people answered his call and the president told him that only God can remove him from power. He threatened to plunge the country into an institutional crisis by announcing that he would no longer serve the sentence of a federal Supreme Court judge. He later took it back alleging that his statements were a result of the heat of the moment.
Melo said Bolsonaro’s rhetoric reaches his base but leaves him politically isolated.
Since last year, the electoral authority has been proactive in countering criticism of the voting system. His chief executive, who is also a Supreme Court judge, has repeatedly made statements in his defence. Behind the scenes, they are working overtime to recruit aides in the legislature and the private sector, although many have not publicly reflected on their position.
A turning point came last month when Bolsonaro called foreign ambassadors to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to brief them about alleged vulnerabilities in the electronic voting system. Since then, both Congressional leaders and the attorney general, all of whom are considered aides to the president, have expressed confidence in the system’s credibility.
America also spoke. His State Department issued a statement a day after the ambassadors’ meeting, calling Brazil’s electoral system and its democratic institutions “models for the world”. Furthermore, at a regional conference of defense ministers held in the capital Brasilia in July, the American, Lloyd Austin, pointed out that the military should fulfill its missions responsibly, especially during elections.
The letters read on Thursday – which would have been an exercise for academics at any point of time – have struck a chord in the society. In recent days, television stations have aired videos of artists reciting pro-democracy commitments.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has played down the concerns and repeatedly dismissed the manifestos.
“We don’t need a short letter to say we protect democracy, to say we’re going to abide by the Constitution,” the president told concerned politicians on July 27.
Still, concerns about the president’s rhetoric have spread even among some aides, with two government ministers speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Ministers said it was appropriate for Bolsonaro to call his supporters to the streets, but they are concerned that his way of expressing himself may lead some to believe he is inciting violence. He said the president’s impulses and his furious 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. The leader of the formation assured the chairman of the electoral court that he had confidence in the voting system, Augusto Rosa, the party’s vice president, told the Associated Press.
It will be an uphill battle for Bolsonaro. More than half of the people surveyed by the Datafolha company said they would not vote for him under any circumstances. But their support has increased recently due to falling unemployment, low petrol prices and rising spending on welfare. Some polls say da Silva would have a lead of less than 10 points in the first round of voting. A tighter race will make pre-election promises more relevant to honoring the results.
For independent political analyst Thomas Truman, the industry-led manifesto is the most important document in Brazil since the 1988 constitution.
“There are going to be people defending democracy, something we haven’t seen since the dictatorship,” Truman said over the phone. “It’s very important to set the coup aside at this time.”
Alvares reported from Brasilia.