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Bolsonaro Supporters Take to the Streets

As thousands of people converge on Brazil’s political and economic capitals, worries of a violent, anti-democratic turn persist.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waits for Bissau-Guinean President Umaro Sissoco Embaló.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures as he waits to meet Bissau-Guinean President Umaro Sissoco Embaló at Planalto Palace in Brasília, Brazil, on Aug. 24. Evaristo Sa/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brazil braces for mass demonstrations, a coup in Guinea, Myanmar’s opposition calls for a “people’s defensive war,” and the Taliban claim victory in the Panjshir Valley.

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Bolsonaro’s Supporters Prepare Show of Force

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brazil braces for mass demonstrations, a coup in Guinea, Myanmar’s opposition calls for a “peoples defensive war,” and the Taliban claim victory in the Panjshir Valley.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Bolsonaro’s Supporters Prepare Show of Force

Thousands of Brazilians are expected to take to the streets across the country today, answering—and protesting—a call by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for a popular show of force as corruption investigations, lagging poll numbers, and the reemergence of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have weakened Bolsonaro’s position ahead of the October 2022 presidential election.

Organizers, with financial support from pro-Bolsonaro donors, hope to gather as many as 2 million people in the capital, Brasília, with thousands of people remaining behind in a protest camp. Bolsonaro himself is expected to address crowds in Brasília as well as São Paulo, Brazil. All of this pageantry, as Foreign Policy’s Latin America brief author Catherine Osborn wrote via e-mail, is “to create the image of a huge mass of people that Bolsonaro can then use to rebut what he claims is the fake news claiming that he lacks support.”

The demonstrations come as Bolsonaro has attacked the Supreme Court and complained of fraud in Brazil’s voting system for months—pushing for an all-paper ballot to replace electronic voting machines, which he alleges are susceptible to tampering.

Both Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court have decried his administration’s attempts to force voting changes, suggesting institutional support for any further anti-democratic moves would solely lie with the military, which has been less clear about its future intentions.

Tense atmosphere. The prospect of right-wing grievances against democratic institutions mixed with mass protests and aggressive online organizing have led to fears that Sept. 7 may become a Brazilian version of Jan. 6, when supporters of then-U.S. President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol. Pro-Bolsonaro supporters already breached police cordons in Brasília on Monday night, raising security fears ahead of today’s main event.

Osborn warns violence is a possibility, given the disposition of some of Bolsonaros backers: “Many of Bolsonaros supporters are gun enthusiasts and he has made a point to loosen gun laws. The number of guns held by Brazilian civilians has doubled since 2017. [Violence] could occur between Bolsonaros supporters and the police or with counter-protesters.”

Poor polling. Consistently poor polling has left Bolsonaro with few options if he wishes to retain power. A Sept. 1 poll shows Lula trouncing Bolsonaro by double digits in a one-on-one matchup, a scenario that has largely held since March when convictions against the former president were quashed.

Recent polls show more than 50 percent of Brazilians say the Bolsonaro government is bad or terrible, although those who say his administration is good or excellent have held steady at roughly 25 percent.

“I have three alternatives for my future: prison, death, or victory,” Bolsonaro told a group of evangelical supporters last week, giving insight into his mindset ahead of today’s demonstrations. “You can be sure the first alternative doesn’t exist. I’m doing the right thing, and I owe nothing to anyone.”


The World This Week

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Bitcoin becomes legal tender in El Salvador.

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Germany to meet with his counterpart, Heiko Maas, and attend a ministerial-level meeting on Afghanistan.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travels to Moscow for talks with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

The trial of 20 people charged with involvement in the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris begins. Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving assailant, will be present for the trial; six others will be tried in absentia.

Morocco holds parliamentary elections.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is due to present his annual budget to Congress.

Canadian party leaders hold a second French-language debate, one of three debates ahead of Sept. 20 parliamentary elections.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets with embattled Christian Democratic Union leader Armin Laschet ahead of Germany’s federal elections.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors meet virtually.

The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Afghanistan and debates the mandate of the U.N. mission there following the Taliban takeover.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts talks with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in Moscow.

Canadian party leaders take part in an English-language debate.

On Friday, Sept. 10, Russia and Belarus conduct annual joint military exercises.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit the three sites of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as part of 20th anniversary commemorations.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, German political party leaders participate in the second of three debates ahead of Sept. 26 federal elections.

Macau holds legislative elections.

Pope Francis visits Hungary, where he is scheduled to meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Somalia begins holding indirect parliamentary elections for its lower house.


What We’re Following Today

Guinea’s coup. The leaders of Guinea’s military coup have promised to form a transitional government of national unity following the overthrow of Guinean President Alpha Condé along with his cabinet on Sunday. Speaking on Monday, coup leader Mamady Doumbouya told government officials a “consultation will be carried out to define the major framework of the transition” before a transitional government would be put in place. The Economic Community of West African States, which has threatened sanctions in the wake of the coup, will meet on Thursday for an extraordinary summit to discuss developments.

Keeping Qatar close. Two of the most senior members of U.S. President Joe Biden cabinet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, visit Qatar today on separate trips with a unified message: thanking the Gulf state for its support in processing evacuees from Afghanistan and reassuring the country, which has the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, of U.S. priorities following the Afghanistan withdrawal. The Qatar stop is the start of a busy week for both officials as Blinken’s travels take him on to Germany and Austin visits Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Taliban claim to capture Panjshir Valley. On Monday, the Taliban claimed to capture the Panjshir Valley, the final region resisting the group’s takeover of Afghanistan. National Resistance Front leader Ahmad Massoud has not surrendered, calling for a “national uprising” and saying on Twitter that his fighters remain in Panjshir and “our resistance will continue.” As the Taliban gain full control over the country, pressure is growing on the group to finalize the formation of a new government, with an announcement expected as soon as this week.


Keep an Eye On

Myanmar’s opposition call. Duwa Lashi La, acting president of Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government (NUG), said the group launched “a people’s defensive war against the military junta,” calling on Myanmar’s citizens to “revolt against the rule of the military terrorists led by [Prime Minister] Min Aung Hlaing in every corner of the country.” The call to arms comes almost four months to the day since the NUG announced the formation of its armed wing: the People’s Defence Force.

Japan’s next prime minister. The race to succeed Yoshihide Suga as Japanese prime minister is heating up, as local news reported Taro Kono, Japan’s minister for coronavirus response, could receive the backing of Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who ranks second to Kono in opinion polls. Although Kono has strong popular support, a tight vote on Sept. 29 could see the decision come down to Liberal Democratic Party members. In that scenario, Fumio Kishida, the only candidate to officially declare so far, and Sanae Takaichi, the reported choice of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, could upset Kono’s bid.

Dutertes second act. The Philippines’ ruling party’s national congress takes place this week, with party members expected to approve Christopher Bong Go as its presidential candidate for next year’s election. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to be confirmed as the party’s vice presidential candidate, a move that would allow him to circumvent his one-term limit should his party win and Go subsequently resigns.


Odds and Ends

Supporters of Russian opposition politician Boris Vishnevsky face a challenge in local elections this month: choosing the right one. In what appears to be a spoiler campaign, not one but two other Boris Vishnevskys will appear on the Sept. 19 ballot, with all three appearing as middle-aged men sporting receding hairlines and graying beards. It gets weirder: A report by the independent Novaya Gazeta found the two unknown Vishnevskys appear to have changed their names only recently from Victor Bykov and Alexei Shmelev.

The tactic has been used before in an attempt to siphon off votes and prevent opposition victories in Russia’s electoral system. Three more “double” candidates are running against popular communist candidates in Moscow.

Vishnevsky, who has faced online troll abuse in the past, has questioned the motives of his new clones. “I don’t think they agreed to embarrass themselves like this for free,” he told the Guardian.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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