BRASÍLIA – Tens of thousands of people turned up on Wednesday, angry and wearing Brazilian flags, massing outside military bases around the country. They say they are there to save Brazil’s democracy from a rigged election, and there is only one way to do so: The armed forces need to take control of the government.
It’s an alarming need in a country that suffered from a two-decade military dictatorship until 1985 – and another strange turn of events in the aftermath of Brazil’s polarizing elections.
A day earlier, the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, reluctantly agreed to a handover of power after 45 hours of silence following his death to the former leftist leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But after years of Mr Bolsonaro’s baseless attacks on Brazil’s electoral system, his supporters don’t seem to accept defeat.
“I don’t get it, but they have to intervene and hold new elections,” said Andrea Vaz, 51, a computer hardware seller holding a sign that reads “Vote machine fraud” !” at a large rally outside the Brazilian Army’s national headquarters in Brasília. “We watched many different videos. People spend money, buy votes,” she added. “There’s proof.”
But some protesters had clearer, more drastic demands, which were circulated on WhatsApp and Telegram groups: The army should take control of the streets, Parliament and the Supreme Court should be dissolved and total The president should remain in power, at least until elections can be held.
The widespread protests and calls for the armed forces were an escalation of Brazil’s far right’s refusal to accept the election of Mr da Silva, a former president whom many far-rights see as a criminal. because of his past corruption scandal.
Mr Bolsonaro, in a two-minute speech on Tuesday in which he did not acknowledge his loss, said he supported peaceful protests inspired by a “sense of injustice in the process”. vote”.
Many of his followers see it as a seal of approval. Larissa Oliveira da Silva, 22, who was sitting on a chair by the sea during a protest in São Paulo, said: “What he said yesterday energizes me. “After his comments, I see that he is on our side.”
But other protesters say Mr Bolsonaro abandoned the de facto deal to hand over power to Mr da Silva on Tuesday, so they are turning to the armed forces instead.
In a statement, the Brazilian Defense Ministry said that “the protests, provided they are orderly and peaceful, are the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, thought and assembly, in accordance with the principles of constitution and applicable law.”
The military has not considered intervening in the transition of power, and if the protests expand, they could urge the president to ask his supporters, a senior military official, who asked not to be named, said. go home. The official said the military, which helps monitor the election, found no signs of fraud.
The Department of Defense said it will soon send a report on the integrity of the ballot to election officials.
In interviews with more than 60 protesters across Brazil since Sunday, hardly anyone believes the election was clean. Those beliefs stem from the same circumstantial evidence, unpublished reports and inaccuracies that Mr. Bolsonaro has promoted for years to claim that Brazil’s elections are rife with fraud. They watched video of the voting machine malfunctioning, read that the patterns on the returned ballots were suspicious, and they said, they simply don’t trust election officials.
Most of all, though, they say Mr Bolsonaro has drawn a much larger crowd than Mr da Silva – and almost everyone they know votes for the president – so how does he? lost again?
The movement is loosely organized. There appear to be no official protest leaders, and prominent public figures, including conservative politicians, have not objected to similar calls for intervention. However, it quickly became the largest protest since Mr Bolsonaro lost the vote on Sunday.
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With a mass turnout of more than 100,000, protesters gathered in at least 75 cities, including all 27 state capitals of Brazil, often around military bases.
Elsewhere around the country, protesters continued to set up highway blockades, creating backup routes for miles and disrupting freight and transportation. Those blockades began shortly after Sunday’s election results as part of what protesters see as an attempt to “paralyze” Brazil and force the military to intervene. According to the federal highway police, as of Wednesday afternoon, 146 blockades were still active.
Around São Paulo, blockades caused multiple backups totaling more than 60 kilometers of traffic on Wednesday, according to the local transport authority, and resulted in the cancellation of 1,400 bus. The disruption also caused fuel shortages in at least four states.
Mr. Bolsonaro release a video late Tuesday, begged his supporters to stop blocking roads, saying it was disrupting lives and hurting the economy. “I am just as upset and sad as you, but we have to put our heads in place,” he said. “Other protests are taking place across Brazil in public squares that are part of the democratic game.”
“Do what has to be done,” he added. “I and you.” He did not directly address calls for military intervention.
The protests were mostly nonviolent. The most notable incident was the attack on protesters in Mirassol, a midsize city north of São Paulo, when a car plowed into a crowd, injuring 11 people, according to local police. A man has been arrested for attempted murder, police said.
In addition to their insistence that the ballot was stolen, the protesters were also motivated by their disdain for Mr da Silva, who has become the most dominant political figure in 34 years of democracy. Modern Brazilian. Widely known as Lula, he was the front-runner in six of the nine presidential elections during that time period, winning three.
But after his last administration, he also served 17 months in prison for corruption, then was thrown out when the Supreme Court ruled that the judge in his cases was biased.
However, he has never been cleared of any wrongdoing, fueling the belief that he is untrustworthy and making him perhaps a polarizing force for more Brazilians than Mr. Bolsonaro.
Danielle Mota, 43, a hairdresser holding a sign that reads “Federal Intervention” said: “We don’t want a thug president who has robbed, who has been arrested, who has a lot of people in the government. his own plundered Brazil.
“We really want a military intervention.” she added. “Like 1964.”
That was the year that the armed forces, with the support of the United States, overthrew the government, establishing a 21-year military dictatorship that killed or tortured thousands of political opponents. Most of the protesters interviewed Wednesday at rallies in the country’s three largest cities, Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, said they wanted Brazil to remain a democracy. But others, facing da Silva as president, say it’s time for a military government.
“Forever,” said Kenya Oliveira, 38, holding her 4-year-old son.
Camila Rocha, a Brazilian political scientist who has written a book on radicalizing Brazil’s rights, says the calls for the army are the result of years of absorbing Bolsonaro’s claims that the the election was rigged, combined with concerns about Da Silva’s administration.
Mr. da Silva’s left-wing Workers’ Party is at the center of a government kickback scheme that was revealed after he left office in 2010, which resulted in the jailing of many of the party’s top officials. Mr Bolsonaro and his allies have long called the party corrupt, but they also wrongly define it as communist.
Many people have the right view, that da Silva “is not an enemy, but an enemy to be controlled,” Ms. Rocha said. “In this sense, there is a strong parallel to the coup of 1964, precisely justified to halt the advance of what is believed to be the rise of communism in Brazil.”
Many protesters said their request to intervene was supported by Article 142 of Brazil’s constitution, which says the military has a role to “ensure constitutional power” under “presidency of the president.”
According to constitutional lawyers and past court rulings, the article does not allow the military to take control of the government.
Marco Aurélio Mello, a retired Supreme Court Justice and outspoken supporter of Mr Bolsonaro, said the protesters’ interpretation was merely “nostalgia for the dictatorship”.
He added that protesters instead have “the right to lament the losers”.
Laís Martins contributed reporting from São Paulo, Flávia Milhorance, Ana Ionova and Leonardo Coelho from Rio de Janeiro, and André Spigariol and Gustavo Freitas from Brasília.