Tens of thousands of people in nearly every major city in Brazil took to the streets on Wednesday to protest the election of hardline socialist and ex-convict Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to the presidency, expressing support for conservative President Jair Bolsonaro and demanding a federal intervention to block Lula.
The protests were heavily populated and reports on the ground describe them all as having an atmosphere of “euphoria,” “partying,” celebration, and whimsy. Several protests featured mass prayers for the country. Police have not documented a single instance of violence, according to Brazilian media, at the protests Tuesday that occurred in plazas and other legal areas.
Roadblock protests on highways, which are illegal and Bolsonaro has condemned repeatedly, have also been surprisingly peaceful, with the exception of an incident in which an unnamed driver plowed into a crowd of conservatives, injuring 17 people, including two police officers and two children under 12.
Lula defeated Bolsonaro in Sunday’s presidential election by about 2 million votes, or less than two percent. Lula was allowed on the ballot despite being convicted on multiple appeals of having taken bribes during his last two terms as president, which lasted from 2003 to 2011. Lula should have served over 20 years in prison as a result of his criminal conviction, but the nation’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), intervened and overturned the conviction alleging that the first court to process the case did not have jurisdiction to do so. Overturning the conviction allowed Lula to run for public office again; the ex-president remains extremely popular in the nation’s northeast over costly social programs that essentially pay the nation’s poor for routine tasks such as vaccinating their children.
The tens of thousands of protesters supporting Bolsonaro argue that, since the STF never impugned the evidence that got Lula convicted or present any exonerating evidence, Lula still appears guilty of bribery while being president, which should invalidate him to take the office again. Many also condemn the STF offshoot Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the top electoral body led by STF Minister Alexandre de Moraes, for censoring information regarding Lula’s corruption case. At least one major broadcaster accused the TSE of banning any mention or discussion of the Lula conviction on its airwaves.
While all protesters oppose Lula, the methods to prevent him from taking the presidency that they support vary. Some are asking for the implementation of a “federal intervention,” a constitutional provision that they say would allow the suspension of the inauguration due to extraordinary circumstances. Others convened outside of various barracks and armed forces headquarters demanding a military coup to prevent Lula from taking office.
“The requirements for federal intervention are in Article 34 of the Constitution,” a commentator for the Brazilian news network Jovem Pan, Jorge Serrão, explained, listing them as “to curb a serious compromise of public order, to maintain national integrity, to repel a foreign invasion or [an invasion of] one unit of the Federation to another, to guarantee the free exercise of any of the Powers, to reorganize the finances of the unions of the Federation, provide for the execution of a federal law, order or judicial decision, and ensure the observance of sensitive constitutional principles.”
The street protests on Wednesday followed two days of national trucker-led roadblocks demanding Lula not become president again. Bolsonaro, who did not speak for two days following the election and has yet to concede or mention Lula at all, has issued two statements supporting the protests and thanking protesters, but enthusiastically urging them to remain peaceful and not obstruct roadways.
One of the largest protests on Wednesday occurred in the nation’s largest city, Sao Paulo, where an estimated 30,700 people took the streets with signs reading “federal intervention” and anti-communist slogans, according to O Globo.
In Rio de Janeiro, protesters convened in front of the local military command center urging the army to block Lula. No concrete estimates of the crowd size are available at press time, but most reports describe “thousands” of people organizing. Bolsonaro represented Rio de Janeiro in Congress for decades before becoming president, making it home to one of the most enthusiastic protests on Wednesday. Multiple reports of police officers driving by honking and waving Brazilian flags in solidarity surfaced online.
“We all are here legally, peacefully, and democratically as a counterattack to a coup,” a protester identified as Marco Paulo told Spain’s El País newspaper. “This corrupt, criminal system that organized the Brazilian election through the TSE caused a coup in the ballots. Here it’s about God, fatherland, family, freedom, and Brazil over all, not even one step back.”
The crowd in the city shouted “no thieves here!” and chanted “the people united will never be defeated” – ironically, a slogan commonly used by socialists and communists.
In the nation’s capital, Brasilia, protesters organized outside of the national armed forces headquarters for mass prayers, chanting “federal intervention” and “armed forces, save Brazil.” The Brasilia crowd was reportedly an eclectic mix of anti-communists, Evangelicals, Catholics, and monarchists.
Brazil broke off from Portugal as a monarchy in 1822. Prince Luiz Philippe de Orléans e Bragança, a royal family heir, is currently a conservative member of the Brazilian Congress. The news site UOL reported that the rain appeared to do little to deter protesters, many of whom had traveled to the capital and camped outside the military headquarters overnight to ensure a spot there. UOL noted that “hundreds of families, many with children,” were participating en masse in the event.
UOL noted that the crowd spent much of the protest singing Gospels songs and praying. At one point, a man on a megaphone proclaimed, “the election had fraud, but that is not the fault of our northeastern brothers,” a reference to Lula’s dominating performance in the region, his stronghold, on election night.
“The blame belongs to Mr. Alexandre de Moraes and the thieves in the PT [Lula’s Workers’ Party],” the man concluded.
Thousands also convened in Santa Catarina state, where some of the largest and most long-lasting trucker blockades have occurred.
Video of that protest showed protesters kneeling and praying for freedom from communism.
Protesters have vowed to continue opposing Lula, who is expected to be inaugurated on January 1, indefinitely.