As the saying goes, Brazil’s new year doesn’t really get underway until the end of the Carnival holiday. Judging by the de facto start of 2019 for President Jair Bolsonaro, we are in for one wild ride. Since Ash Wednesday—the official end of Carnival—the head of state is two for two: two days, two monumental screw-ups.

Still damp from the golden shower episode not 24 hours previous, Mr. Bolsonaro has managed to get himself into even more trouble. During a speech at a ceremony for the 211th anniversary of the Naval Fusiliers Corps, the sitting president declared that “democracy and freedom only exist when the Armed Forces want them to.”

The speech was intended to be perfunctory and complimentary of the Armed Forces, while at the same time signaling that the military will need to make sacrifices in the government’s incoming pension reform. Instead, Jair Bolsonaro has managed to inadvertently start another fire.

“Our mission will be completed alongside the good people of Brazil, those who love their motherland, those who respect family, those who seek rapprochement with countries which have ideologies similar to ours, those who love democracy and freedom. And these, democracy and freedom, only exist when the respective Armed Forces want them to,” he said, during the event in Rio de Janeiro.

Jair Bolsonaro’s intention to gesture towards the Armed Forces would be understandable after the events of earlier this week, when the president posted a pornographic video on his official Twitter page, infuriating the military wing of his government.

However, the content of his words constituted a direct violation of the Brazilian Constitution, which defines the role of the Armed Forces and the protection of democracy.

Backup from General Mourão

In a rare stroke of solidarity, Vice President (and four-star Army General) Hamilton Mourão came to Mr. Bolsonaro’s defense, saying the president’s words were misinterpreted. After weeks of going against his superior on almost everything, General Mourão backed up Jair Bolsonaro on this case, claiming the line was a reference to the situation in Venezuela.

“[The president] is being misinterpreted. The president spoke about when the Armed Forces are not committed with democracy and freedom these values die,” said the vice-president. “This is what happens in Venezuela.”

Poorly phrased or not, Mr. Bolsonaro’s comments are worrying in a country which now has the largest Armed Forces presence in government since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985)—and a long history of coups and revolutions.

A comedy of errors

Whether is it dummy candidates, pornography on social media, or today’s latest impropriety, the Jair Bolsonaro government is quickly turning into a series of blunders and missteps, despite having only spent a little over two months in office.

International observers have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach with the current administration. Put off by his disappointing showing at the World Economic Forum in Davos but buoyed by the economic team backing him up, his nascent administration was initially handed the benefit of the doubt.

But now, with the Carnival holiday out of the way and the government racing against time to approve deep reforms, foreign market operators are set to become more and more impatient with Mr. Bolsonaro’s gaffes. The irritation is less with the content of his screw-ups and more with their practical implications. In order to pass a deeply unpopular pension reform bill, the government needs all the support it can get, from both the political class and the general public. Posting pornography on social media and conditioning democracy to the whim of the military is not a good way to appease either.

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.