Last week, with the country registering over 450,000 deaths, vaccine shortages, and fears of a deadly third wave, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro paraded through the streets of Rio de Janeiro on a motorcycle.
Thousands of his supporters came out to see him, squashed behind metal fencing, with only a handful of face masks in sight. Flanking the president on a motorcade that snarled its way through western Rio and into the city center were a legion of mostly white male bikers, flying Brazilian, American, and Israeli flags.
While hardly representing a mass movement, this noisy show of support for Brazil’s far-right president comes as his approval ratings are slipping, and the popularity of the re-emerged former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva continues to soar.
The length and sheer brutality of Brazil’s Covid-19 epidemic is leading some of the president’s voters in the 2018 election to wonder whether the country may well have been better off if Mr. Bolsonaro hadn’t been in office.
Reluctant to change tack on his pandemic denialism, the president is instead clutching at straws, attempting to rally his core far-right base, giving the impression to outside observers that he remains popular.
The 2022 election is fast approaching, and the president must realise that having his most loyal supporters onside will not be enough to win him a second term.
Ironically, after months of rallying against restriction measures and playing down the pandemic, the best thing Mr. Bolsonaro could do for his own popularity would be to leave his motorcycle in the garage and stay at home.