The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week sent a wave of worried comments on social media about the risks faced by candidates in the October 2 election.
“Political violence is not new in Brazil, but so far it has been limited to (candidates for) municipal elections,” reports Oliver Stuenkel, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, to AFP.
“Now it is reaching the federal level, partly because of the extreme polarization” of the political climate in Brazil, he adds.
Outpacing all the other candidates, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and former left-wing head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will engage in a merciless duel.
Seriously stabbed in 2018 by an imbalance in the middle of the campaign, Jair Bolsonaro travels the country for this new presidential election. At 67, he still goes to meet the crowds, but with a bulletproof vest.
The GSI, the corporate security firm on which the president’s personal protection depends, has beefed up its security.
Its workforce? State secret.
Lula, 76, is cautiously keeping his distance from the crowds and has called in private security guards.
“It’s good that they take their security more seriously,” Silvio Cascione, Brazil director for Eurasia Group, told AFP. “Each of them can be targeted by extremists.”
“Lula’s campaign team is clearly worried. Lula will favor gatherings in closed spaces with strict security protocols,” he adds.
He will still hold meetings in open places, “but less than during his previous campaigns”.
– Homemade bomb –
The meeting of the icon of the left last week in Rio de Janeiro on the vast square of Cinelandia, the scene of giant demonstrations in the turbulent history of Brazil, spoke volumes about this concern.
“We’ve never seen that, the square was no longer freely accessible, there were metal detectors to enter”, explains an AFP photographer who followed Lula, who wore a bulletproof vest under his shirt.
Before this meeting, Lula’s security had already been reinforced. Twenty-seven police officers came to support the eight who surrounded him, said columnist Lauro Jardim on CBN radio.
But the throwing of a pipe bomb at the public that evening by a man sporting Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) stickers sent a chill.
The shooting last weekend of a local representative of the PT who was celebrating his 50th anniversary in Foz do Iguaçu (south) by a Bolsonarist policeman caused a stir. Each side accused the other of stoking the violence.
The year will be hot. According to the Observatory of Political and Electoral Violence, 214 cases of violence – from threats to homicide – against politicians have been recorded since January, 32% more than in the first half of 2020, l municipal year.
– Stir in chocolate –
Like all the candidates, Lula will be entitled from the official launch of the campaign, on August 16, to some of the 300 federal police officers assigned to a plan presented as “unpublished”. Their number will increase if the risk increases.
Can the security threat change the face of the campaign? “It is hard to see (Bolsonaro and Lula) accepting significant limits” to this exercise, said Mr. Stuenkel, they are “ready to face a certain level of risk”.
Because for these politicians who go into contact with the crowd, “it is extremely important to promote an image of strong popular support”, he adds.
But in three and a half years of Bolsonaro’s mandate, the political climate has become strongly radicalized. We hear “a violent speech, particularly from pro-Bolsonaro groups”, says the political scientist, “or from the candidate himself”, who has instilled over the months the idea that the election could be stolen from him.
“They are trying to turn the countryside into a war, to scare Brazilian society!” Lula said Tuesday at a meeting in Brasilia.
Finally, the 474% explosion in gun ownership under Bolsonaro is alarming.
Not for everybody. It is a chocolate revolver that decorated the birthday cake last Sunday of deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the president, according to photos posted on Instagram by his wife.