An electoral coup or an institutional coup

Image: Action Group


Jair Bolsonaro sought to create the conditions to support a coup throughout his mandate

When I was in primary school (1952/1956) at Colégio São Fernando, recess was occupied by those who played soccer and those who played marbles. As a notorious wooden leg I was rarely chosen for one of the football teams and soon settled on the honorable sport of marbles. I became one of the good players in my class and even competed with students from more advanced classes. One of the moves most sung by us, between “marraio”, “filindois sou rei” (which should have been “I hurt two, I am king”), “só morro de tres arrancões”, “só morro de china” and others, was the “ball or ball” request. In this request, the player launched his ball in such a way that he could either “weave” the ball of another player, or enter the bulica (a shallow hole dug in the ground with the heel of his shoe). Hitting one of the two possibilities gave the right to continue teeing.

This memory came to me when I reflected on the tactics that the energetic president Jair Bolsonaro has been adopting. On the one hand, he moves shamelessly to win elections by buying votes and, on the other hand, he threatens the elections themselves, mobilizing his support in the Armed Forces, military police, militias and their “cattle”. Let's look at how this could happen. It's the "ball or ball" tactic. An electoral coup or an institutional coup.



The press comments that Jair Bolsonaro has been on the platform or campaigning since January 2, 2019, the first day of his government, only thinking about re-election. I disagree. Bolsonaro only thinks about staying in power and with more power than the Constitution allows him. Jair Bolsonaro has been plotting a coup to stay in power and expand the powers of the presidency since, surprisingly, he won the 2018 elections. This is the reason why he was able to contest the polls that elected him.

Since then, the madman has been consistent in his quest to weaken the Republic's institutions and place them under his command. Gradually, he dominated the Attorney General's Office, the Federal Police, placing his minions in the STJs and in the STF itself. He also managed to tame Coaf and, after several unsuccessful attempts to control it, reached a delinquent agreement with the National Congress. This last maneuver appears as a capitulation of the “boss” to the growing power of the Centrão, but it must be remembered that the dependency is mutual. And that the complicity is total, or almost. Of course, Bolsonaro would prefer the relationship between the dictators of the military regime and the Arena, submission to orders, but for now he is taking it, swallowing a few frogs in exchange for support for his excesses and, above all, shielding against the more than 100 requests for impeachment that sleep in Artur Lira's drawers.

Jair Bolsonaro sought to create the conditions to support a coup throughout his mandate. He inflamed the military police against the governors who were supposed to control them. He favored the arming of a true militia organized in the Shooting Clubs, which today gather more than 500 members. He bought support from officers at all levels of the military on pension reform. He attracted more than 7 active and retired officers to himself with a wide distribution of public offices. He increased funding for the FFAA to buy new equipment to play soldier.

He supported his minions among miners, land grabbers and loggers, to the point of creating areas in the Amazon where the Brazilian State no longer has control and opening up space for the penetration of organized crime to launder money and transport drugs. He was less efficient in favors that would guarantee the adherence of truck drivers, and this cost him the failure of the coup attempt in September 2021, although he is seeking to correct this flaw with the “diesel bag”, which is about to be released.

On the other hand, Jair Bolsonaro maintained a permanent process of inciting his fanatics to attack other institutions of the Republic, especially governors and the STF. In all this time, Jair Bolsonaro did not seem concerned about his constant loss of approval in opinion polls. He had between 20 and 25% support from fanatics at his worst and qualified support from armed supporters and this was, in his assessment, enough to warrant an attempt to undermine the democratic game.

Despite having been a terrible manager of public interests, notoriously during the pandemic, Jair Bolsonaro guaranteed the support of important sectors of the economic elites, in particular agribusiness, eliminating the threat of agrarian reform movements, releasing the indiscriminate use of pesticides, loosening all environmental rules (“passing the cattle”) and weakening the mechanisms for controlling crimes against the environment and indigenous peoples. Despite his inability to promote economic development, Jair Bolsonaro is still the favorite of the business community, especially the middle class, satisfied with the measures to weaken the union movement and labor rights, initiated in the government of Michel Temer.

With all this, Jair Bolsonaro's successive clashes with the STF and Congress were not enough to allow a coup, attempted live and in color, in September 2021. chabú and the mobilizations of tractors from the agribusiness bases and fanatical militants were not able to be enough for the invasion of Congress and the STF, which would generate the necessary institutional crisis to instigate the intervention of the FFAA. Jair Bolsonaro hung on the back of his wildly provocative speeches and was forced into a pathetic retreat negotiated by former President Michel Temer.

The opposition thought the beast was either wounded or tamed and became strictly concerned with the electoral process. Big mistake. Since then, Bolsonaro has expanded his control of the top FFAA that now work with him in an attempt to wall up the STF and STE, threatening the elections if there is no “supervision of the FFAA and the PF”. On the other hand, Bolsonaro colluded with Centrão, opening up unlimited coffers to buy congressional support. The spurious alliance between the executive and the legislative is today an enormous danger for the maintenance of the democratic regime.

Jair Bolsonaro needs Congress for his coup. This was the lesson learned by the madman. Many people think that congressional support for a coup by Jair Bolsonaro would be suicide for parliamentarians, but experiences in other countries show that this type of alliance is quite possible, as long as the material interests of parliamentarians are guaranteed, including, obviously, the their mandates. Let us remember that in our own history, dictators coexisted (except for a few moments) with Congresses willing to support the regime.

The opposition sleeps in a splendid cradle, betting that Jair Bolsonaro would not have the strength to soften the electoral game if defeated by a good margin in the second round. And with the loss of support in electoral polls throughout this year, Bolsonaro could lose in the first round. Jair Bolsonaro is aware of this risk and is already threatening to spoil the game before the first round, suspending the elections, “due to lack of security in the electronic ballot boxes”, in the words of his vice-presidential candidate, General Braga Neto.

Jair Bolsonaro knows that he is unable to deliver a “dry” blow without a major social and political crisis. It needs a total disorder in the country to justify a State of Siege and the suspension of the elections, with extension of the mandates for a time to be defined.

He expects or will provoke riots, riots, looting, beatings, murders. He can count on his militiamen to set up provocations against left-wing demonstrations that provide a pretext for the brutal intervention of the military police, beyond the control of the governors. This would give rise to FFAA pronouncements in order, putting pressure on Congress to vote on measures to suspend the elections.

All of this is speculative, say the most optimistic, remembering that the coups in Brazil had the support of the elites, the churches and a good part of the middle class. At the moment the elites are divided, the churches and the middle class as well. On the other hand, some say that the coups in Latin America have always been provoked by the agencies of American imperialism and that this is discarded in the current international scenario. True, but this did not stop the coup in Paraguay, Honduras and Bolivia.



Jair Bolsonaro's other tactic, in alliance with Centrão, is to be competitive again in the elections. This seems impossible, given the enormous distance that separates him from the voting intentions for former President Lula, but the energetic man has taken the line of his parliamentary allies and is, since the beginning of this year, willing to spend money like never seen before in history of this country to regain popular support.

We are not going to recap all the maneuvers used to pool resources to distribute bounties, but one, at least, deserves discussion. As the opposition wisely decided, the campaign will be decided on the theme of “economy”. “Economy” means poverty, hunger, unemployment and underemployment, high prices, fuel and electricity prices, transport, cooking gas, family debt, interest rates on property purchases, medicines and health plans, in school fees, among others.

Bolsonaro sought to address part of this complex of needs with his Auxílio Brasil program, benefiting close to 20 million families with 400,00 reais per month, until December. He expected the program to impact his approval ratings, but the result so far has been meager. The so-called Kamikaze PEC came to increase this bet, raising payments by another 200,00 reais and incorporating another 2 million families. We are not going to discuss the impact on public accounts, surpassing 100 million this year. Neither did the destruction of measures so dear to the liberals regarding budget balance, spending caps and fiscal responsibility, not to mention electoral legislation. The question for all of us is what impact this will have on the mood of the electorate in October.

The outcry against the electoral measure was general, but all senators, with the exception of the semi-retired José Serra, voted in favor and the same will be repeated in the Chamber. How can one explain that the opposition is willing to give this advantage to Bolsonaro? It seems pretty obvious to me. Bolsonaro and his cronies from Centrão gave the opposition a checkmate. With hunger spreading painfully across the country and reaching 37 million people (and growing…) it is impossible not to vote in favor of the measure.

It is good to remember that the opposition proposed the 600,00 reais when the Brazil Aid law was voted and it was Paulo Guedes who vetoed this amount. It would not be possible to refuse the new resources in the name of the electoral legislation and the shameless opportunism of Jair Bolsonaro. The problem, in my view, was that the opposition did not transform the issue of aid into a permanent campaign, formulating a proposal for a consistent and more comprehensive program, not only increasing the amount of aid, but the very logic of distribution consistent with the correct principles adopted in Bolsa Familia. The issue became a campaign issue and not a topic for immediate confrontation of a dramatic problem.

In this vacuum it was easy for Centrão to set a trap for the opposition. Bolsonaro had an asset to use in the campaign; distributes more money to more people than Lula in the Bolsa Familia. Will it work electorally? The voter's memory is short, but he will remember that the emergency aid in the pandemic was greater and benefiting more people and notice that inflation ate a quarter of this amount. And it will continue to erode the purchasing power of the aid. But in the current shortage of so many millions, this electoral coup can work.

The Bolsa Caminhoneiro/Taxista has less impact, not least because the beneficiaries already indicate that their losses with the cost of fuel are much greater. Measures to control diesel and gasoline prices have more scope, but risk being quickly annulled by the increase in the exchange rate and possible spikes in oil prices. The Cooking Gas voucher has very low values, but any help in this area has important effects among the poorest.

It is not possible to know what effect the tsunami of secret budget resources distributed by deputies and senators in their electoral bases will have. It is unlikely that they will have a wide and immediate impact, even if used for the benefit of the people, which is always in doubt.

The electoral measures allowed by the spill of money in this electoral campaign will put on the agenda a basic question about the political maturity of the electorate, but history has shown that in times of great misery, gains, even if small and short-term, weigh a lot. in the choices of the poorest. What plays against Bolsonaro is the fact that no policy has been adopted to increase the supply of food in the country, other than cuts in import taxes on agricultural products.

These cuts did not have any impact to contain the rise in food prices. The food crisis is global and the commoditization of our agriculture ties us to the international prices of primary products. Starvation must continue to eat away at the resources of those who have and those who don't have government aid.

To conclude, Bolsonaro armed two coups: the electoral coup with the outpouring of public money that will be missed in all other sectors of the administration (education, health, research...), and the institutional coup described above, aimed at suspending the elections and extending the mandates.

Canceling these threats implies drawing up consistent government proposals in the area of ​​facing extreme hunger and poverty. A program in this area will demand something difficult from candidate Lula: formulating a way to finance a substantial and consistent aid project, perhaps in the basic income format defended by Eduardo Suplicy. At the risk of alienating allies among the elites and wealthier classes, Lula cannot avoid the proposal to raise money with a tax on large fortunes, which could be the starting point of a broader fiscal reform.

The threat of a coup against the elections calls for another initiative. We have to launch a very broad movement for the maintenance of the elections, for respect for the electronic ballot boxes and for the results of the election. It will have to be a supra-party movement, involving all candidates in a republican pact to isolate Bolsonaro. We will have to be on the streets until the elections, in a broad process to show that the coup will have a fierce opposition to the point of intimidating the militia, the police and the militias.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).


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