In a move opposition lawmakers called a preemptive attempt to ape former U.S. President Donald Trump’s failed effort to subvert the results of the 2020 election with baseless claims of voting infrastructure irregularities, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday said he would not cede power following next year’s presidential contest if there is any “fraud.”
“I’ll hand over the presidential sash to whoever wins the election cleanly,” Bolsonaro—who is often called the “Trump of the Tropics”—said in his weekly social media address. “Not with fraud.”
“Let’s go to the auditable vote,” the president said, referring to his desired switch from computer voting to printed paper ballots. Bolsonaro has made numerous false claims that electronic voting is susceptible to tampering, and that he would have won the 2018 election in the first round were it not for fraud.
“We’re going to have a convulsion in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said. “We’re going to have a very serious problem in Brazil. I am doing everything to warn you in advance, in order to avoid this. I am presenting a way we won’t have to be suspicious of the final election results.”
Bolsonaro also took aim at his leading 2022 rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, claiming without evidence that the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate owes his eligibility to run in next year’s election to fraud.
“They took the thief out of jail,” said Bolsonaro, referring to da Silva’s 2019 release from prison following a Brazilian Supreme Court ruling that his incarceration for his role in the “Car Wash“ corruption scandal was illegal.
Da Silva had served 580 days of a more-than-12-year sentence. The Supreme Court annulled several of the former president’s convictions earlier this year, restoring his political rights and opening the door for his bid to unseat the increasingly unpopular Bolsonaro.
“They made the thief eligible, in my opinion, to be president, yes; but fraudulently,” Bolsonaro said.
Critics accused Bolosnaro of emulating Trump’s claims of a “stolen election”—which the Brazilian leader embraced and amplified.
“Bolsonaro’s attempt to demand a print vote is that of someone afraid of losing the election. He also tries to manipulate public opinion with false accusations of electoral fraud, same as Trump did in the U.S.,” said Federal Deputy José Guimarães (PT-Ceará). “We cannot allow any more setbacks in Brazilian democracy!”
Federal Deputy and PT National President Gleisi Hoffmann (Paraná) tweeted that Bolsonaro wants to prime his supporters for false fraud claims and spark a riot “like Trump.”
Sen. Humberto Costa (PT-Pernambuco) tweeted: “Worn out, cornered, and lost, the genocider reaffirmed that the election will be stolen if he does not have a printed ballot. No more smokescreens, Bolsonaro! Get to work! Go respond to your government’s corruption scandals.”
Others said Bolsonaro’s disparaging remarks about da Silva were a reflection of his standing in the polls. According to an EXAME/IDEIA survey conducted from June 22 to 24, da Silva is leading the current president by five percentage points among likely 2022 voters in a hypothetical second-round match-up.
Bolsonaro is beset by multiple calamities, including mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic—which has claimed more than 500,000 Brazilian lives—the resignation or firing of numerous government ministers and military chiefs, various environmental crises, and an emerging progressive consensus for his impeachment.
Brazilian lawmakers and civil society groups representing the entire political spectrum earlier this week filed a “super-request” for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, merging 123 previous petitions to remove the president from office based on 23 alleged crimes.
At a protest in the capital Brasília earlier this week, Federal Deputy Perpétua Almeida (Communist Party of Brazil-Acre) renewed her call for Bolsonaro’s impeachment.
“Five hundred thousand deaths,” Almeida said, referring to the country’s Covid-19 death toll. “The solidarity, the mourning has made several political forces come together for a common goal: to stop the Bolsonaro government from killing.”
“Lives could have been saved. The parliamentary investigation has exactly shown that if the vaccine had been bought, more than 200,000 Brazilians could have been saved,” she added.
The Bolsonaro administration has also come under fire for intentionally stalling coronavirus vaccine deals with Pfizer, as well as allegedly conditioning the purchase of other vaccine stockpiles on bribes.
Earlier this week, the first study examining the scale of Brazil’s Covid-19 catastrophe was published. It concluded that 400,000 lives could have been saved had the Bolsonaro administration implemented more stringent social distancing rules and began vaccinating people earlier.
Pedro Hallal, a professor at the Federal University of Pelotas, told The Guardian that a better response from the administration would have prevented 80% of Brazil’s pandemic deaths, and that Bolsonaro bears primary responsibility for the country’s staggering death toll.
“It was not the federal government who said that the pandemic was a ‘little flu,’” said Hallal. “It was not the government that encouraged people to go out without a mask, or who said that the vaccine could turn you into an alligator. That was all the president, and it’s his responsibility.”