The coronavirus pandemic has so far proven to be a boost for many autocratic leaders around the world, who have managed to exploit the crisis to expand and tighten their hold on power. But the situation is different for at least one far-right demagogue, for whom the pandemic is shaping up to become the key line in his political obituary: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
The political future of a president who has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” now hangs in the balance as Bolsonaro continues to actively exhort Brazilians to reject public health measures, even as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country climbs rapidly. In recent days, Bolsonaro has lost two of the most popular members of his Cabinet in circumstances that left him politically wounded. Now, the Supreme Court is looking into allegations—from Bolsonaro’s own justice minister—that the president meddled with the police and obstructed justice, a move that could ultimately sink his presidency.
Each day, it seems, brings a new development in the troubles swirling around Bolsonaro. Some are not directly related to the pandemic—like his move to appoint a new, politically pliant head of the national police, allegedly to protect his family from accusations of corruption. But his evident mishandling of the coronavirus crisis has put his incompetence and demagoguery in full view, magnifying the impact of scandals of his own making. The possibility that Bolsonaro will end up being impeached and removed from office is now very real.