Brazilian police’s startling allegations that former President Jair Bolsonaro, his allies and some military officers had attempted to stage a coup, after the 2022 presidential election, expose both the structural fault lines and political challenges the young South American democracy faces. The police adds that they were involved in spreading propaganda on voter fraud, pushing for new elections, recruiting troops to organise a coup, bringing judges under surveillance and encouraging the mob to stage protests defying the results. Well before the elections, Mr. Bolsonaro had raised doubts about the election systems. He had refused to concede defeat to his leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, while his far-right supporters continued their protests, which culminated in the January 2023 riots at Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and Presidential office. A court has ordered Mr. Bolsonaro to surrender his passport, and three of his allies and the head of his party have been arrested. The far-right leader, under whose watch Brazil’s economy tanked, social tensions rose, the health-care system crumbled under the weight of COVID-19, and institutions came under attack, says the allegations are politically motivated. But he does not have an easy way out of the mess.
Those who were in power being targeted by the system is nothing new in Brazil. Former leftist President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016 on charges of violating budget rules. Lula, the incumbent President, spent 580 days in jail between his terms, on a corruption conviction, which was later annulled by the Supreme Court. While Ms. Rousseff and Lula were accused of corruption and fell prey to the powerful lobbies in Brazil’s Congress and judiciary, the charges against Mr. Bolsonaro, a defender of the brutal dictatorship of 1964-1985, are far more serious. Democracy remains fragile and for the military, memories of the dictatorship are still fresh. Any attempt by politicians or officers to defy the election process and undermine democracy should be dealt with utmost seriousness. But it should be done as per the law, avoiding political vendetta. Lula returned to power on promises that he would strengthen democracy and enable prosperity and growth. His hands are full. He should also make sure that there are impartial investigations and the truth about the riots and the alleged coup plot is uncovered. Earlier, the ‘car wash’ scandal had exposed deep-rooted corruption in the political system, which led to the weakening of Lula’s Workers’ Party and the rise of the far-right. He should not allow the coup scandal to further fracture the country’s polity and erode the legitimacy of its democratic system.