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September 16, 2018

Growing army influence in Brazilian elections causes a stir


September 16, 2018

RIO DE JANEIRO: With an ex-army captain leading polls, a reserve general picked as his running mate, and a military chief sticking his nose into the election chaos, Brazil’s army has become an increasingly conspicuous participant on the political scene.

On top of that, the number of military candidates across both the presidential and gubernatorial elections on October 7 has almost doubled since the last vote, up from 13 to 25, according to the influential Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

In a country that suffered almost 20 years of military dictatorship from 1965-84, there is understandable apprehension in the air.

"After the dictatorship, the military was on the defensive for a long time, but now they are more visible," said Nelson During, director at Defesanet, a website specialising in defence affairs.

Most worryingly, perhaps, is the fact that poll front-runner Jair Bolsonaro has spoken admiringly about Brazil’s military dictatorship and even its use of torture.

It is no coincidence that he picked reserve general Hamilton Mourao as his running mate, and thus potential vice-president, and has promised to name six generals to his government if elected.

Mourao is not just any general, either. He caused an uproar with his veiled threat last year, amongst a raft of corruption scandals, that should the political situation continue to degrade, the army would be forced to "impose a solution".

Since the right-wing Bolsonaro was stabbed by a left-wing activist while campaigning last week and subsequently confined to hospital, his running mate has taken up the lobbying reins.

Bolsonaro, 63, remains in a serious condition and may not be able to return to the campaign trail before the October 7 first round, perhaps not even before the second-round two-candidate run-off three weeks later that he is expected to reach.

That means Mourao’s profile, visibility and influence will grow.

The attack on Bolsonaro didn’t go unnoticed by his former military colleagues, with army chief General Eduardo Villas Boas giving an interview to Estado de S. Paulo warning that the climate of "general intolerance" surrounding the elections could "throw into question the legitimacy of the next government."

He also aimed a barb at jailed former election front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose exhaustive attempts to secure a spot on the ballot paper despite serving a 12-year sentence for corruption extended even to petitioning the United Nations.

Villas Boas hit out at the UN Human Rights Committee, which said that left-wing icon Lula could not be barred from standing in the election, for attempting "to violate national security."

In reaction to Villas Boas’s scolding of the UN for meddling in Brazil’s election, Folha de S. Paulo ran an editorial entitled: "Imprudence in uniform."

It ticked off Villas Boas for "these confused statements that contribute in no way to calming" the election chaos.

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