Brasilia. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defends an arbiter role for the armed forces in the elections, but despite the far-right’s efforts to align the military, experts rule out any anti-democratic maneuver coming from the barracks.
Bolsonaro, a 67-year-old former Army captain, will end his term with the intention of turning the armed forces into a political support for his government, said Carlos Fico, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, specializing in military history.
Proof of this, more than 6,000 active or retired soldiers were appointed to the federal administration, with the highest rank being Reserve General Hamilton Mourao, Vice President of Brazil.
This Wednesday, Independence Day, Bolsonaro sought to impregnate the traditional Brasilia parade with electoralist overtones, allowing the participation of followers either with tractors or as members of an evangelical church.
Bolsonaro, nostalgic for the last dictatorship (1964-1985), “considers that being on the side of the armed forces and having demonstrations strengthens him,” Fico said.
The Army and electronic voting
For the October 2 elections, in which he will try to be reelected against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), the president took that will to the extreme, seeking to align the Army in his challenge to the electronic ballot box system, whose reliability he questions.
The armed forces routinely provide logistical support for elections and ensure that the process runs smoothly. This time they were also invited by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to participate in an Election Transparency Commission (CTE).
“They invited the armed forces (…) they have their responsibility, their credibility and they are not going to be decorative in the election. They are going to do the right thing,” Bolsonaro launched on August 30.
The nine representatives of the Army presented almost a hundred questions to the CTE about the vulnerability of electronic ballot boxes, thus endorsing the president’s doubts.
The TSE described a large part of the remarks as “opinions” and denied, for example, the alleged existence, cited by the military, of a “dark room” for counting votes.
‘Professionalism’ in the barracks
Brazil adopted electronic voting in 1996 and it was through this mechanism that Bolsonaro was elected deputy for Rio de Janeiro five times and, in 2018, president. Episodes of fraud were never proven.
However, the far-right, behind Lula in the polls, assured that he will accept the verdict of the polls “as long as” the process is “clean and transparent.”
In this sense, politicians, diplomats and observers in Brasilia questioned what the attitude of the military would be if Bolsonaro challenged the result.
Reserve General Maynard Santa Rosa, Bolsonaro’s former secretary of Strategic Affairs, rejects the “moderating role” that his former boss attributes to the armed forces and is exhaustive about the military’s commitment in the face of an eventual anti-democratic maneuver.
“The president exposes inconsistent opinions. There is not the slightest possibility that (the Army) has a role other than what is written in the Constitution, ”he tells AFP Santa Rosa, who served for 49 years.
“The generals who are in the government are in political positions and have that non-military approach,” but “professionalism” within the barracks would nullify any possibility of constitutional disobedience, he says.
Fico agrees that both the Minister of Defense, General Paulo Sergio Nogueira, and Bolsonaro’s vice-presidential candidate and former Chief of Staff, General Walter Braga Netto, are soldiers “without troop command” who have shown a series of “provocations.”
“But there is no generalized movement of active military personnel concerned with verifying the ballot boxes,” explained the professor, who also indicated that the Brazilian Police is “influenced by Bolsonaroism,” as a subject potentially more likely to cause a riot.
Despite the fact that Bolsonaro’s campaign team suggested that he abandon criticism of the polls because it alienates moderate voters and could subtract votes, a collaborator of the president resigns himself anonymously to accept that the president does not leave them completely. “It is part of his character, of political theater. In the end, without it, he would stop being who he is,” he admitted to AFP.