BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO, (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro mingled military parades on Brazil’s Independence Day with political rallies in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia on Wednesday, firing up hundreds of thousands of supporters less than a month before a heated election.
Opponents and legal experts criticized the far-right leader for co-opting public celebrations of Brazil’s bicentennial to serve his re-election campaign, in which polls show him trailing leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ahead of a Oct. 2 vote.
“Our battle is a fight between good and evil,” Bolsonaro told his supporters from a sound truck in Brasilia, amid cries of “Lula, thief” and banners calling for military intervention in Brazil’s Supreme Court.
Bolsonaro toned down his attacks against the judiciary after spending more than a year blasting the courts that run Brazilian elections, which he calls vulnerable to fraud, without citing evidence.
The president’s criticism of Brazil’s electronic voting system has stirred calls for a military coup from some of his more radical backers. Some observers fear he is laying the groundwork to claim electoral fraud like his U.S. ally, former President Donald Trump, and reject a potential Lula victory.
However, Bolsonaro’s supporters were confident on Wednesday, pointing to the throngs on Brasilia’s mall and Rio’s Copacabana Beach as a sign that polls are skewed and the president could clinch the election without a second-round runoff.
“I came to support him because he is being attacked by Communists and institutions controlled by former president (Lula),” said Sidney Granja, a mechanic from Rio’s north side.
He also said he was confident Bolsonaro would win the elections democratically, and concede if defeated by Lula.
In Brasilia, authorities maintained a tight security cordon to keep Bolsonaro supporters from advancing toward the Supreme Court, as his supporters attempted last year in a demonstration that some compared Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Bolsonaro kicked off the proceedings there by presiding over a military parade celebrating 200 years of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. The exhibition included marching troops, armored vehicles, air force flyovers and tractors from the powerful farm sector, which is core to Bolsonaro’s political support.
Supporters drowned out a military choir by chanting “Our flag will never be red!” – a jab at the colors of Lula’s party.
Bolsonaro later attended military displays in Rio, that included paratroopers landing on the shore and warships off-shore, and then headlined a second rally on the famous Copacabana beachfront.
He laid into his leftist rival Lula, the former president who was jailed for corruption but later had his convictions annulled by the Supreme Court.
“This type of person must be extirpated from public life,” he said.
Lawyers for Lula’s campaign coalition called on electoral courts to investigate Bolsonaro’s rallies as a misuse of public resources for campaign purposes.
Opinion polls show Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, leading the presidential race, although his advantage has narrowed in recent months. The latest surveys still show Lula defeating Bolsonaro by double digits in a likely run-off vote at the end of October.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Ricardo Brito, Ueslei Marcelino and Adriano Machado; Editing by Brad Haynes, Paul Simao, Rosalba O’Brien and Aurora Ellis)