Defense Minister denies institutional threat

Defense Minister denies institutional threat
Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto. Photo: Cleia Viana/CD/CC-BY 4.0

Summoned to appear before three House committees, Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto denied having threatened Congress with a coup d’état. In July, newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo reported that Mr. Braga Netto had insisted to House Speaker Arthur Lira — through a middleman — that Congress approve a bill reinstating paper ballots in the 2022 elections, or else there would be no elections at all.

In his effort to sow distrust in democratic institutions, President Jair Bolsonaro has used the voting system as a punching bag. Despite trailing in all polls, he says the only way he could lose would be due to a rigged electronic system “intended to bring [former President Luiz Inácio] Lula da Silva back.” 

Mr. Braga Netto, a faithful Bolsonaro ally, has publicly advocated in favor of paper ballots — a move that legal experts from across the political spectrum believe would be a major step backwards, one that would increase the possibility of voter fraud rather than reduce it.

As Defense Minister, Mr. Braga Netto sits immediately above the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the military hierarchy — and has failed (or not even tried) to tame displays of defiance towards the other branches of government. Last week, the Navy held a military parade in front of Congress and the Supreme Court at the request of Mr. Bolsonaro, just hours before the House was scheduled to vote on the paper ballot bill — which was voted down.

“There was no intention to pressure or threaten branches of government,” he told Congress, blaming the press for the political crisis that ensued.

Other government officials have also sparked concerns, such as retired General Augusto Heleno, Mr. Bolsonaro’s head of security, who said the Armed Forces could stage a coup d’état given the right conditions.