Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro and the Military – Politics

In the end, it probably wasn’t a bad surprise for Jair Bolsonaro’s critics, but there is still a bad premonition: On Sunday, Brazil’s president announced that he wanted to make Walter Braga Netto his vice-candidate in the October elections. The general is a close confidant of Bolsonaro and has already worked in the current government, including as defense minister. Walter Braga Netto was therefore considered by many to be the logical choice for the post of candidate for the vice presidency.

In recent weeks, however, doubts have also arisen: in polls, Bolsonaro is far behind in second place behind his challenger, the Brazilian ex-president Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has little support, especially among female voters: his course, which is geared towards masculinity, weapons and confrontation, does not seem to have caught on with the Brazilians. Not even a quarter of them said they wanted to vote for Bolsonaro.

There was therefore hope in those close to the president that a female candidate for the vice presidency could generate votes among women in the country. A suitable candidate was quickly found, Tereza Cristina, an agricultural engineer who until recently was Minister of Agriculture. In the best-case scenario, she would not only have won over more female voters, but would also have provided additional support in the powerful agricultural sector. But: Bolsonaro decided differently and the question is: why?

On the one hand, according to reports from those close to the president, he was afraid that Tereza Cristina could stab him in the back in the event of a government crisis. The 67-year-old politician belongs to the powerful center block in parliament, she is well connected and could, if impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro take place, help the president topple.

Before becoming a politician, Bolsonaro was a paratrooper captain

And on the other hand, there is also that old ally that Jair Bolsonaro has always been able to rely on in recent years: the military.

No other president in the country’s recent history has had as close ties to the armed forces as he has. Before becoming a politician, Jair Bolsonaro himself was a paratrooper captain. Later, when he was a member of parliament, he always wanted to be close to the military. And as president, he finally got more army members into civilian posts than any democratically elected incumbent before him. Several cabinet members were active or ex-military and Bolsonaro’s vice president is already a general.

This closeness has historically raised concerns about the role and power of the armed forces in Brazil: just over 30 years have passed since Brazil returned to democracy after a bloody military dictatorship. To this day, this chapter in the country’s history has only been incompletely processed; conservative circles glorify those times as decades of order and progress. President Jair Bolsonaro has also consistently praised the dictatorship, and his future vice-presidential candidate, Walter Braga Netto, recently described the 1964 coup as an “important step” in Brazil’s history that served to “restore order in the country “.

His poll numbers are poor and Bolsonaro criticizes the electoral system

All of this is causing concern among critics of Brazil’s right-wing president. Because while his poll numbers remain consistently poor, Jair Bolsonaro is criticizing the electoral system in the country more and more explicitly: voters in Brazil cast their votes on electronic voting machines. Independent experts have classified these as largely reliable, but Bolsonaro fears manipulation. If he doesn’t win the October vote, the president said it would most likely be because there was fraud. “A new class of thieves has emerged in our country,” Bolsonaro said at an event a few weeks ago. “They want to steal our freedom. But if it’s necessary, we’ll go to war.”

However, it is no longer just the president who sows doubts about the electoral system: members of the army are also increasingly criticizing it in public. And even if Brazil’s military is not united behind Jair Bolsonaro, more and more observers are now wondering what would happen if the country were to go through a situation like the one in the US in January last year, supporters of the then US President Donald Trump, who was still in office but had already been voted out, stormed Congress. At the time, Bolsonaro was one of the few politicians in the world who did not immediately condemn this attack. Just a few days ago, he himself warned of a “tragedy”: “Everyone knows what’s going on here.”