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Brazil military parade ahead of vote an ‘attack on democracy’

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Brazilian politics updates

Politicians and opponents of Jair Bolsonaro have decried a military parade in Brazil’s capital as an attempt to intimidate lawmakers ahead of a vote on an election measure that the president has championed.

A convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles rolled through the centre of Brasília on Tuesday before stopping at the presidential palace to formally invite the far-right leader to attend annual navy exercises.

The event took place hours before legislators were due to debate a constitutional amendment backed by Bolsonaro to change the country’s voting system ahead of presidential elections next year.

The navy insisted that the unusual motorcade had been planned before the legislative vote was scheduled. But detractors denounced it as an affront to Brazil’s democratic institutions.

A group of nine leftwing and centre-left parties condemned the manoeuvre as an attempt to constrain congress, and said it was “unacceptable that the armed forces allow their image to be exposed in this manner, used to suggest the use of force in support of the anti-democratic and coup-like proposal defended by the president”.

Deputies in the lower house are expected later on Tuesday to reject a proposal to add printed receipts to the existing electronic ballot boxes, which Bolsonaro claims without evidence are vulnerable to fraud.

As his popularity has declined, with more than half a million deaths in Brazil from Covid-19, Bolsonaro has continued to voice his criticism of the voting set-up, insisting that a paper audit trail is required if a result is disputed.

Over the past week, the president has also clashed with top judges who have opened investigations into his attacks.

Opponents believe the former army captain, who has praised the 1964-85 military dictatorship, is trying to undermine the credibility of the 2022 poll in case of possible defeat. Omar Aziz, a senator leading a congressional inquiry into the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, lambasted the parade as a “frontal attack on democracy that needs to be repudiated”.

“The president is putting on an act to show that he has control of the armed forces and can do whatever he wants with the country. It is unacceptable nonsense,” he told a session on Tuesday.

Alcides Costa Vaz, former president of the Brazilian Association for Defense Studies, described the exercise as “totally unusual and inopportune.’‘ Military parades in the capital normally take place on Independence Day in September, he added.

Retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, once a minister in the Bolsonaro administration until he was fired, added to the chorus of criticism.

“It’s not a place to be parading for no reason with the childish excuse of delivering an invitation. It’s a complete disrespect for the armed forces and the national congress,” he told a radio station.

The powerful speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira, earlier this week labelled the timing as a “tragic coincidence”, but said that Bolsonaro had promised to respect the result of the vote.

The presidency declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice in São Paulo

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