Bolsonaro has military officers on a leash

Over the first half of this year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has ramped up his criticism of democratic institutions — suggesting that the military Forces are “his” and trying to sow doubt around the country’s electronic voting system. 

Mr. Bolsonaro has urged for the return of paper ballots as an audit toll to what he claims is a rigged system — despite he and his brood of political sons getting elected for decades with that very system. The president’s clan say printed ballots could provide the system with an audit toll — even though electronic voting machines are already auditable.

Moreover, the introduction of the electronic voting system quashed fraud allegations since its implementation in 1996. The last biggest fraud scandal in Brazil happened in 1994 — in an all-paper system. In that year, electoral judges nullified the congressional races in Rio de Janeiro after finding multiple cases of false ballots or tampered counts.

Despite all evidence pointing against paper ballots, House Speaker Arthur Lira indulged Mr. Bolsonaro and put the proposal to a floor vote — where it failed to get the necessary support to pass. Hours before the vote, however, Mr. Bolsonaro had the Navy stage a military parade in front of the presidential palace — which is just across the street from the Congress and Supreme Court buildings.

The clear act of intimidation had the tacit support of the Armed Forces’ joint chiefs of staff. The Navy commander organized the farcical display of old and smoky tanks dating back to the Vietnam War — and commanders of the Army and Air Force attended and shared smiles with Jair Bolsonaro. 

The president clearly wanted to convey the message that he holds the putschist card — and all signs suggest he wants to use it if he loses the 2022 election. As we have reported during the Bolsonaro presidency, Mr. Bolsonaro doesn’t lack the willingness to pull for a power grab. The question is if key actors will continue enabling him.

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