Bolsonaro Needs Brazilians to Believe He’ll Stage a Coup

Bolsonaro Needs Brazilians to Believe He’ll Stage a Coup
A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at a rally marking Independence Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 7, 2021 (AP photo by Andre Penner).

Following the coup that took place in Myanmar in early February, a video was posted online and quickly went viral. Filmed in the capital, Naypyidaw, it showed a fitness instructor performing aerobics to a bouncy dance tune as a military convoy passed behind her, on its way to parliament to oust the elected government. “As it isn’t uncommon for Nay Pyi Taw to have an official convoy, I thought it was normal so I continued,” the instructor, Khing Hnin Wai, wrote in a subsequent Facebook post.

More than six months later, on Aug. 10, a parody video spread widely on social networks in Brazil. This one showed a woman dancing to a similarly upbeat musical soundtrack outside the Presidential Palace in the capital, Brasilia, as tanks rolled by in the background as part of a military parade. The video’s message was not lost on anyone paying attention: President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain with an avowed nostalgia for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, had been saying for months that he might not accept the results of next year’s presidential election. 

According to Brazil’s navy, the unusual military parade that day was intended as a ceremonial invitation for Bolsonaro to attend an annual military exercise. Inviting the president to the event has been a tradition since 1988, but it was the first time that such a show of force had been organized to deliver the invitation. Opposition lawmakers saw a more sinister meaning behind the parade: They and other members of Congress were preparing to vote on Bolsonaro’s proposal to require that printed ballots be used in elections, due to the president’s baseless claims that voting machines are vulnerable to fraud. One senator denounced the parade as “improper and unconstitutional intimidation” of Brazil’s democratically elected representatives. 

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