In the past weeks, Brazilians have run the streets of the country protesting against president Jair Bolsonaro. Ten of thousands of citizens demonstrated in 20 of the 26 Brazilian states, demanding for the leader to step down. The outcry is a consequence of the disastrous handling of the Coronavirus crisis, rising unemployment, and accusations of corruption and embezzlement. This spiral of criticisms has plummeted the premier’s approval to a mere 24%. In an attempt to reclaim the lost political support, Bolsonaro shuffled the cabinet hoping to improve the tense relations with the Congress.
The population has lengthily decried the government’s uncoordinated response to the pandemic. The nation has mourned almost 550.000 casualties, becoming second for the number of deaths only to the United States. The president has long denied the existence of the virus and has systematically spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the disease. His rhetoric has boosted vaccine scepticism and undermined the effectiveness of face masks and lockdowns.
Citizens are not the only group criticizing Bolsonaro’s health crisis management. Political factions adhering to different ideologies also disapprove of his actions. Anthony Pereira, professor of Brazilian Studies at King’s College has commented that “(T)he centre-right, the centre and the left can all agree that his performance with Covid has been awful”. Indeed, he added that “(T)hey’ll disagree on his handling of the economy or the role of the military within the government, but this they can agree on”.
Alongside the political shortcomings, the vaccine campaign is proving to be inadequate too, with only 17% of people fully vaccinated and 44% having received one dose. However, according to Monica Yanakiew, a reporter for al-Jazeera, Brazil is a country that has a history of successful inoculation programmes. Indeed, according to her “Brazil was a country that should not have had these problems because it is a country that is usually prepared for mass vaccination”. Nonetheless, the premier’s and the Brazilian Ministry of health’s doses inoculation strategy has been flawed. Dr Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho, director of King’s Brazil Institute, mentioned that “(T)here was no proper, national campaign for the vaccination” and added that “(T)he lack of leadership from the ministry of health as well as a failure to distribute the vaccine evenly across all social strata in all Brazilian states caused a massive delay in the rollout”.
Moreover, the Brazilian president is also being accused of embezzlement and corruption in regards to the response to Coronavirus and the shots campaign. The Senate has found potential inconsistencies in the leadership’s procurement of the vaccine and has started an investigation. In particular, a member of the lower house of Congress, Ricardo Barros, alongside Bolsonaro are suspected of being involved in a wrongdoing case concerning a contract for the acquisition of 20 million doses of India's Bharat Biotech Covaxin vaccine. The case involves a deal of 1.6 billion reais ($315m) with the Indian Pharma company, which the health minister had warned the president about. In addition to this scandal, Bolsonaro is also being questioned about another corruption case happened while being a federal deputy. The fact concerns the requisition of part of the public salary of newly hired associates as a forced fee. Despite the many charges of wrongdoing, the president continues to deny any misconduct.
Finally, another complaint coming from the Brazilian streets is the rising unemployment which is currently counting less than 50% of the working population having a job. The inoccupation level of Brazil has slightly decreased to 14.6% in the quarter ending in May, down of only 0.1% compared to the record of the previous months. Rodolfo Margato, an economist at brokerage XP, has predicted that the rate of occupation will increase in the next months because of the "increased mobility, rising business confidence and more favorable growth prospects for the labor intensive service sector". Nonetheless, he also forecasted that the employment level will go back to "normal levels" only in the second quarter of 2022. To face the unprecedented economic situation, Bolsonaro appointed Onyx Lorenzoni as the head of the new Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The Minister will be in charge of guiding new labour policies aimed at assisting workers and tackling unemployment.
In the hope to turn around the tide, the president’s new objective is next year’s election. Because of the drastic political support fall, if the voting was held today, Bolsonaro would be expected to lose to his political rival, the leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. On social media Bolsonaro claimed to want “clean, democratic and sincere elections”. Although he did not provide any evidence of voting discrepancies, according to him, the current voting system encourages fraud. Therefore, he proposed to change Brazil’s electronic voting system and switching it to the paper ballot instead. To analysts this move seems to be a pre-emptive action that could allow him to contest the results were Bolsonaro to lose the 2022 elections. In accordance with this hypothesis, a Workers’ party’s legislator, Afonso Florence, has said that “Bolsonaro is raising the tone on all fronts. The printed vote discussion is just a tool to justify an action à la Trump”. With the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement that the Delta variant is set to become the dominant strand in a couple of months despite the increase in vaccination levels, Brazil might still need to face yet another wave of the virus. This challenge, coupled with poor economic, political, and social conditions, will define whether Bolsonaro will be able to balance approval and criticisms in his favour in the next months.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.