President Jair Bolsonaro was accused of attempting to intimidate Brazil’s Congress after attending a hastily improvised military parade that passed in front of it just hours before a crucial vote on his demand to change the country’s voting system.
The far-right leader looked on from the presidential palace on Tuesday morning as dozens of military vehicles including tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled through the capital Brasília in what the opposition denounced as the former army captain’s latest “outburst” of coup-mongering.
The parade ostensibly took place to deliver an invitation to civilian authorities to attend an annual military exercise due to take place on August 16th. But it was organised at short notice after the decision last Friday by congressional leaders to schedule Tuesday’s vote on whether to reinstitute paper ballots for elections.
Mr Bolsonaro has demanded the change, threatening not to recognise the result of next year’s presidential election, or prevent it being held altogether, should he not get his way. He has alleged the current electronic voting system is subject to fraud despite failing to provide any evidence to back up his claim, relying instead on discredited conspiracy theories.
Electoral authorities and a majority of political parties oppose the proposal as unmerited and impractical, with political opponents claiming the president is only interested in creating a pretext for not recognising the result next year should he lose. Already voted down in committee, the measure faces almost certain defeat in a vote by the full lower chamber.
The display of military hardware in the capital has further amplified fears about the far-right leader’s authoritarian ambitions. It has also heightened fears about the role of the armed forces in the country’s increasingly bitter institutional crisis.
The commanders of the three branches of the military attended the event, as did defence minister Walter Braga Netto, a retired general who has sought to more closely align the armed forces with the president in his struggle against the Congress and judiciary.
Already facing evidence gathered by Congress that he failed to act against corruption in his administration’s vaccination programme, Mr Bolsonaro is facing a pile-up of legal woes before the country’s highest courts over accusations he has used his office to engage in illegal political activity.
The parade provoked a furious reaction from Congress, with dozens of members denouncing it as a blatant attempt at intimidation. Senator Omar Aziz, who is heading up the inquiry into the administration’s response to the pandemic, labelled it a “pathetic scene” organised by a president facing accusations of corruption.
“There will not be paper ballots, there will not be any type of coup against our democracy,” he said, saying Congress had the means to defend democracy against “coup-mongering outbursts”.
The president of the lower house, Arthur Lira, a key ally of the president who has used his office to shield him from impeachment proceedings, said the military display just hours before the vote was no more than a “tragic coincidence”.