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Brazil Covid-19

Despite rallies, Brazil's Bolsonaro on shaky ground over handling of Covid-19 pandemic

A supporter of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro takes part in a protest during a motorcade against the president of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia, quarantine and social distancing measures, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil May 3, 2020.
A supporter of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro takes part in a protest during a motorcade against the president of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia, quarantine and social distancing measures, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil May 3, 2020. REUTERS - UESLEI MARCELINO
Text by: Sam Cowie
4 min

As Covid-19 death tolls mount in Brazil, the country faces a growing political crisis that threatens the government of President Jair Bolsonaro while exacerbating the effects of the pandemic.

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On Sunday, in the capital Brasília, the far-right leader Bolsonaro met with hundreds of supporters outside the presidential palace, flouting social distancing norms, amid calls by protesters to close democratic institutions like congress and the Supreme Court.

The president has repeatedly sought to downplay the pandemic having previously dismissed the disease as “fantasy” and just a “little flu.”

“You know that the people are with us, the armed forces - alongside law, order, democracy and freedom - are also on our side, and God above all,” the president told his supporters.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is an outspoken supporter of Brazil’s 1964 -1985 military dictatorship and the reference to the armed forces was widely interpreted as a threat, which was later criticised by high ranking military officers.

“The president is mistaken. He is interpreting things the way he wants,” General Paulo Chagas told the UOL news portal.

During the rally, on World Press Freedom day, the president’s supporters physically attacked local reporters, which drew widespread disgust, even within the president’s own circle.

“I am against any kind of cowardice and attacking those who are doing their work is not part of my culture,” Bolsonaro’s vice, General Hamilton Mourão, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

The rally came just a day after popular former Justice Minister gave an eight hour statement to Brazil’s federal police about accusations he made that Bolsonaro tried to interfere with the agency’s national directorate when he resigned from the government the week before.

Pandora's Box of investigations

Former judge Moro shot to fame - and controversy – presiding over Brazil’s mammoth corruption investigation Operation Car Wash and was regarded by many as a pillar of stability and moderation in Bolsonaro’s unruly government.

Brazil’s Supreme Court has authorized an investigation into Moro’s allegations and last week blocked Bolsonaro’s chosen appointment as Federal Police director, family friend Alexandre Ramagem.

It’s widely speculated by political opponents that the president wishes to appoint a confidant to head the agency to shield his family from looming investigations as all three of his politician sons are subject to inquiries.

Bolsonaro continues to maintain a loyal support base however. According to pollster Datafolha, a third of Brazilians consider his government “excellent or good” almost unchanged since the beginning of the crisis.

But analysts suspect that support could begin to tumble as death tolls are expected to peak in coming weeks.

Supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro take part in a protest against social distancing and quarantine measures, recommended by Sao Paulo's governor Joao Doria, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 3, 2020. The placard reads: "Together with the captain."
Supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro take part in a protest against social distancing and quarantine measures, recommended by Sao Paulo's governor Joao Doria, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 3, 2020. The placard reads: "Together with the captain." REUTERS - AMANDA PEROBELLI

The pros and cons of potential impeachment

Meanwhile, according to the same pollster 45% of Brazilians think that congress should open impeachment proceedings against the president.

However, most observers consider this an unlikely possibility, at least for now.

“Impeachment is a long drawn out process that takes months,” said Oliver Stuenkel, an assistant professor of International Relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

Rodrigo Maia, speaker of Brazil’s head of representatives, on Monday considered the president’s most powerful political opponent, is the only politician who can open impeachment proceedings against the president.

“In Brazil, unfortunately, we fight against the coronavirus and the extremism virus, whose worst effect is to ignore science and deny reality. The road will be hard, but democracy and Brazilians who want peace will win,” he Tweeted during the rally in Brasília at the weekend.

 

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