Thousands of people took the streets across Brazil on August 11 in defence of democracy, amid fears that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro may attempt a coup if he fails to be reelected in October.
Bolsonaro — who currently trails leftist candidate Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva by about 10% in the polls — has previously said he “may not accept the result” of the elections.
He has repeatedly made baseless claims that the country’s electronic voting system is “flawed” and vulnerable to fraud. His claims were widely denounced and dismissed by the electoral tribunal as “disinformation”.
There have been no documented cases of fraud since the electronic voting system was adopted in 1996.
Bolsonaro’s proposal to introduce printed ballots for the general elections failed to pass Congress on August 9.
The protests, which coincided with National Student’s Day, were held in at least 23 of 26 capital cities. Protesters carried banners that read “Dictatorship never again” and “Respect the vote”.
Several protests included readings of the pro-democracy manifesto, “A Letter to Brazilians in Defence of Democracy and Rule of Law”, written by former University of São Paulo students and signed by more than one million people. Although the document does not mention Bolsonaro by name, it is considered a response to his anti-democratic rhetoric.
The letter references the 1977 “Letter to Brazilians” — a denouncement of the United States-backed military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964–85.
“We are going through a moment of immense danger to democratic normality, of risk to the institutions of the republic and of insinuations of contempt for the results of the elections,” the letter read.
“Groundless attacks unaccompanied by evidence question the fairness of the electoral process and the democratic rule of law so hard won by Brazilian society.
“In today’s Brazil there is no more room for authoritarian setbacks. Dictatorship and torture belong to the past.”
Many leftist leaders and activists spoke at the protests.
Raimundo Bonfim, Centre of Popular Movements coordinator and one of the demonstrations’ organisers, said: “We are back in the streets against the escalation of authoritarianism, with the threat of [Bolsonaro] not respecting the elections — that is, not respecting the popular sovereignty of the vote.”
“Running over democracy is not as simple as the militiaman imagined,” tweeted Socialism and Liberty Party leader Ivan Valente. “Bolsonaro is much closer to jail than to the coup ... Brazilian society does not accept setbacks or coup bravado.”
Brazil’s first round of elections are on October 2, with a second round scheduled for October 30 if no candidate attains the 50% of votes required to automatically become president.