On July 10, a Brazilian poll conducted by Datafolha revealed that 54% of Brazilians support opening the impeachment process against President Bolsonaro. According to the same pollster, 51% of Brazilians disapproved of Bolsonaro’s presidency, a record high during his tenure. Over the last couple of weeks, Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest in 22 Brazilian states and in Brasilia. These high rates of public discontent with his presidency come after Bolsonaro’s mismanagement of the pandemic and corruption scandals. Brazil’s National Congress is conducting a probe into Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic, and the hearings have revealed key findings related to several alleged vaccine embezzlement schemes. According to the allegations, executive officials planned to embezzle funds from overpriced COVID vaccine sales to the Brazilian government. Allegedly, Bolsonaro failed to prevent a corrupt deal with India’s Bharat Biotech, and he didn’t notify the federal police. In response, Bolsonaro refused to answer questions about the allegations with foul language on social media. Despite these allegations, Bolsonaro’s base still strongly supports the president.
Further compounding the political chaos, Bolsonaro questioned the validity of Brazil’s upcoming elections. On July 8th, he told his supporters that “[e]ither we do clean elections in Brazil, or we don’t do elections at all.” Currently, Bolsonaro is pushing a constitutional reform to require physical printouts of every vote. Bolsonaro favors this reform to create more avenues to claim fraud if he doesn’t win, especially since he is trailing his largest political opponent: former President Lula da Silva. However, the nation’s electoral tribunal opposes the amendment because the current election system already allows for audits. In response, on July 9th, Bolsonaro baselessly claimed that the council stole votes in previous elections.
Recently, O Estado de São Paulo—a major Brazilian conservative newspaper—announced support for his impeachment. The newspaper announced on Sunday that “Jair Bolsonaro is no longer in a position to remain in the presidency.” Recently, polls also revealed that 59% of voters would not support Bolsonaro under any circumstances in the next election. Therefore, according to The Guardian, some conservative voices like the O Estado de São Paulo favor impeachment. They want another conservative to run against Lula da Silva since Bolsonaro will likely lose.
Since Bolsonaro’s election chances are weighing, Bolsonaro is using anti-democratic rhetoric to try and stay in power. Rutgers University professor Robert Kaufman claimed that Bolsonaro’s “strategy seems to be that if he can cloud the results of the election by claiming it is fraudulent or rigged, then he has a better chance of overturning the results.”
Despite popular support, the National Congress will likely not go ahead with impeachment. The president of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies would need to approve the impeachment process, but current President Arthur Lira has repeatedly opposed invoking the impeachment process. Hence, to push out Bolsonaro, his opponents will need to focus on winning the upcoming election. Critically, Bolsonaro’s election claims echo Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric. Bolsonaro is likely planning to delegitimize the upcoming election through fraud claims and could stir up a scenario similar to the storming of the US Congress. Therefore, democracy supporters in Brazil should exercise political forbearance and tolerance. Although they should condemn Bolsonaro, they shouldn’t adopt Bolsonaro’s anti-democratic tactics to try and gain a political edge. If Bolsonaro’s opponents win the upcoming election, they also should work with the right to re-establish political tolerance.
In 2018, Bolsonaro ran for president on an anti-establishment, hardline, and anti-corruption agenda. He previously served in the armed forces during Brazil’s military regime. Moreover, before his presidency, Bolsonaro praised Brazil’s previous military dictators and supported a militarized drug war. He has also made openly misogynistic, homophobic, and racist comments. While running for president, Bolsonaro campaigned on a tough-on-corruption platform in the wake of Operation Car Wash. Since acquiring office, he’s mishandled the pandemic, downplayed the disease’s deadliness, and openly questioned COVID protocols. During his tenure, over half a million Brazilians have died from coronavirus.
The recent allegations of corruption regarding vaccine sales are a nail in the coffin for his presidency. Because he campaigned against government corruption, these embezzlement scandals severely hurt his appearance and legitimacy as tough on crime. Moreover, Brazilian nationals can understand the impact of these vaccine scandals on their everyday lives. Because Bolsonaro didn’t act against corrupt officials in his cabinet, Brazilians understand that they don’t have easy access to the COVID vaccine. Even though he is unlikely to be impeached, Bolsonaro is likely to lose the upcoming election. Nevertheless, his anti-democratic rhetoric will likely scourge Brazil’s democracy in the future. If he loses, his supporters will likely not recognize the election as legitimate—staining Brazil’s democracy for the near future.