Analysis: Bolsonaro energizes grassroots with latest Supreme Court clash

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a hiring ceremony for the first doctors of the “Medicos pelo Brasil” program at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 18, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

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BRASILIA, April 27 (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his base are under stress and bracing for a new fight, political analysts say, after defying the Supreme Court by pardoning an ally who was jailed for threatening his judges.

Seven months after seeking to publicly defuse tensions with Brazil’s highest court, Bolsonaro’s new challenge suggests he is ready to rouse his supporters and restore his anti-establishment bona fides ahead of the October election.

“Bolsonaro has made it clear that the truce is over and that he will turn the confrontation with the court into an important rallying call of his re-election campaign,” said Rafael Mafei, a law professor at the University of Sao Paulo.

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By attacking Brazil’s top judges, who also sit on the country’s top electoral court, Mafei said Bolsonaro could also set the stage to challenge the results of the presidential election, like his political role model, the former US President Donald Trump.

Most polls show right-wing Bolsonaro losing a run-off to left-leaning former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by double digits if it were to take place today. Read more

Bolsonaro’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since last year, the president has been arguing that the electronic ballot boxes used in elections in Brazil are susceptible to tampering and should be backed up with paper ballots. He attacked Supreme Court justices for defending the electronic voting system, although he offered no evidence of fraud.

His campaign against e-voting in Brazil and the judges’ defense of it culminated in public rallies in early September, when Bolsonaro said he would no longer respect the rulings of specific judges. This put Brasilia on red alert and the president quickly backtracked on his comments. Read more

However, lingering tensions erupted again last week when Bolsonaro pardoned Congressman Daniel Silveira the day after the Supreme Court sentenced him to nearly nine years in prison for threatening and encouraging violence against judges and the Brazilian electoral system.

Legal experts, former Supreme Court justices and even Lula agree that Bolsonaro has the constitutional prerogative to pardon an individual. But his blatant political use of that power in an election year has led opposition parties to file injunctions to block Silveira’s pardon, arguing it encourages more Bolsonaro allies to attack democratic institutions.

However, other presidential candidates have remained silent on the issue and the Supreme Court lacks support in Congress, where some lawmakers suggest it went too far in trying to make an example of Silveira and other allies of Bolsonaro.

The Supreme Court has not set a date to decide whether to challenge the presidential pardon and rule on the injunctions sought by the opposition parties. Two sources in court told Reuters it was possible a decision would be left after the October election to defuse the tense situation.

Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, said Silveira’s conviction was the latest example of judicial excesses that gave Bolsonaro a political opportunity.

The confrontation plays into Bolsonaro’s appeal from 2018, when he portrayed himself as a political outsider taking over broken institutions in Brasilia, said Creomar de Souza, of consultancy Dharma Political Risk in Brasilia.

“All of a sudden, Bolsonaro has put the Supreme Court on the defensive, and no matter what the justices do now, he’s the winner,” De Souza said.

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Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Ricardo Brito in Brasilia, Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo, Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Aurora Ellis

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