According to Human Rights Watch, President Jair Bolsonaro is threatening Brazilian democracy. He has tried to intimidate the Supreme Court (STF) and has threatened to cancel the elections in 2022 in order to prevent Brazilians from electing their representatives. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro also attacked the freedom of expression of those who criticize him.
On September 7 2021, in speeches during demonstrations in Brasilia and São Paulo, President Bolsonaro attacked the Supreme Court and warned Brazilians that the existing electoral system should be changed, otherwise the elections would not be reliable, citing allegations of electoral fraud without any evidence. Congress rejected a constitutional amendment supported by Bolsonaro to change the electoral process based on these accusations. The president’s recent speeches, past actions and statements seem designed to weaken fundamental rights and democratic institutions.
On September 9, after numerous national and international criticisms of his positions, Bolsonaro said in a written statement that he never intended to attack any branch of government. However, he did not change his opinion regarding the unfounded idea that the Brazilian electoral system is unreliable, as he had said on September 7.
In January, Bolsonaro said that unless the electoral system was changed, Brazil would have a worse problem than the United States, where, according to him, there was electoral fraud in the 2020 elections. A few months later, in July, the president even threatened not to hold elections in 2022. On September 7, the president further reinforced this idea, implying that elections cannot be held unless the changes he advocates are implemented.
According to Human Rights Watch, although Bolsonaro claims to be in favor of democracy, his statements about what he means by democracy are quite controversial. He is a supporter of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), a period of dictatorship in Brazil marked by thousands of cases of torture and killings. President Bolsonaro re-established the anniversary celebrations of the 1964 coup, which his government has already defined as a milestone for Brazilian democracy.
In April and May 2020,President Bolsonaro was already attacking the Supreme Court and his supporters held demonstrations calling for a military coup and the closing of the Supreme Court and Congress. Bolsonaro has occupied the federal government with over 6,000 military, including in important positions in his cabinet. He has stated several times that the armed forces support his government. At a rally in January 2021, he stated that “those who decide whether people will live in a democracy or a dictatorship are its Armed Forces”.
In addition, President Bolsonaro has violated freedom of expression by blocking followers who criticize him on social media accounts he uses to announce and discuss matters of public interest. His government has requested criminal investigations against at least 16 critics, including journalists, university professors, and politicians. Even though many of these cases have been dismissed without charges, these actions reinforce the idea that criticizing the president can have consequences.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch: “Bolsonaro’s threats to cancel the elections and act outside the constitution in response to the investigations against him are reckless and dangerous”. “The international community must send a clear message to Bolsonaro that the independence of the judiciary means that the courts are not subject to his orders.”
freedom of speech/ expression: liberté d’expression
rally: rassemblement (politique)