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Bolsonaro could imitate Trump’s tactics to “stop the robbery”

B.Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has spent much of the last four years imitating one man: Donald Trump. Bolsonaro did so during his 2018 presidential campaign, when his iconoclastic political style and crude statements about women, indigenous groups and the media earned him the nickname “Trump of the tropics.” He did it again during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he criticized lockdowns and spread misinformation about the safety and efficacy of life-saving vaccines. And he did it after the 2020 US presidential election, when Bolsonaro became one of the few international leaders to endorse Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and what one of the last to finally acknowledge Trump’s defeat.

The fear now facing many Brazilians is that Bolsonaro could perform his biggest act of homage to Trump to date when their country goes to the polls for the first round of its general election on Sunday. Brazil’s far-right leader has spent much of the past year claiming, without evidence, that his country’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud. (Brazil’s electronic voting system, which was introduced more than two decades ago explicitly to combat fraud, has a strong track record seeking reliability.) Bolsonaro has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose re-election, presenting his only options as victory, arrest or death. With center Showing him behind his left-wing rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazilian democracy appears on the verge of colliding with Bolsonaro and his most loyal supporters, some of whom have threatened violence against opponents.

Trump’s “Stop the Steal” playbook may seem strange for the Brazilian president to follow. After all, the former president of the United States did not stop the transition of power to Joe Biden. The assault on Capitol Hill by his supporters on January 6, 2021 also earned Trump the distinct disgrace of being the first president to be impeached twice. So the seemingly obvious question is what will Bolsonaro gain by emulating a strategy that ultimately failed?

The answer is much. Yes, Trump did not retain the presidency. But by pretty much every other metric, it’s been a success. He remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party and is widely seen as the favorite to win his party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential election. Unlike most former presidents, who often tend to retreat into relative post-political obscurity, Trump remains relevant. While this is due in part to the variety of criminal and civil investigations he faces, it is also influenced by intrigue over whether he will actually run as a candidate in 2024. “I’ve already made that decision,” Trump said. saying New York magazine in July, without specifying more. A good entertainer knows how to keep their audience interested.

If Bolsonaro has learned anything from Trump, it is that the politics of grievance can have its advantages. It can be used as a weapon to galvanize his base, provide support to his allies, and, perhaps most importantly for Boslonaro, protect himself from prosecution by declaring such efforts a politically motivated witch hunt. For Bolsonaro, who previously faced possible criminal charges for their mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, this could influence their decision-making. “It doesn’t guarantee immunity, but it gives you an extra layer of protection,” says Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a university and think tank in São Paulo. “Bolsonaro’s interpretation is that there is a real incentive not to concede and that, in many ways, he would be better off challenging the result.”

read more: What to know about Brazil’s crucial elections

But Brazilian democracy would be worse off for it. The country’s faith in democracy had already taken a beating under Bolsonaro, with 44% believing Brazil is becoming less democratic, according to a recent study made by YouGov. Analysts fear that Bolsonaro’s baseless claims about the voting machines will further undermine Brazilians’ confidence in the democratic process and could even spark widespread unrest or, worse, an attempted coup. Allegations of electoral fraud and content that discredits the electoral process have already proliferated on Brazilian social networks.

While American institutions ultimately resisted Trump’s efforts to subvert the election, its consequences are still being felt today. Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign continues to see widespread traction, so much so that candidates backing his claims of voter fraud are expected to appear on the ballots in almost all states in the US midterms this November. Brazilian democracy could prove even less robust. “Faith in institutions was already much lower in Brazil than in the United States,” says Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House and founder of Americas Quarterly. Even if an attempted coup fails to materialize, the country could still be left with millions of staunch Bolsonaro supporters who no longer have faith in the democratic process. In this way, adds Sabatini, “the damage has already been done”.

What Bolsonaro finally does is unknown. During the last weeks of the campaign, the Brazilian leader has offered contradictory statements. on a podcast earlier this month, appeared to acknowledge the possibility of an electoral defeat and said he would leave politics if that happened. Days later, while visiting London for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, he told a Brazilian newscaster that if he wins less than 60% of the vote in the first round of elections, “something abnormal has happened.(If none of the candidates exceeds 50% of the votes in the first round, there will be a second round at the end of October to determine the winner).

“He is a person famous for his intemperate and capricious character, so we will not know until now,” says Sabatini. “He probably won’t even know until now.” The truth, however, is that he wins or loses, Bolsonaro can count trump’s support.

More must-read stories from TIME

write to Yasmeen Serhan at


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