BRASILIA.– The position of Jair Bolsonaro dealing with the pandemic has once again frustrated some of his newer political allies. Against those who thought that the Brazilian president would make an effort with a moderation and minimize references to Covid-19, Bolsonaro is re-editing a old strategy: reinforce an anti-vaccine and radicalized discourse.
With former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leading the polls and facing a worsening of the pandemic in the country, the president is trying to cling to his most conservative and ideological voters as a bet to stay afloat until the October election.
Earlier this month, the president repeated attacks on members of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), a target he had neglected since September 7, when he promoted anti-democratic protests in the main capitals of the country. Specifically, Bolsonaro accused Alexandre de Moraes and Luis Barroso –president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal– of being defenders of “Lula president”.
The day before yesterday, Bolsonaro decided to stretch the rope by absenting himself from a summons ordered by Moraes to testify before the Federal Police, in a case for leaks in a TSE file opened by a hacker attack on electronic ballot boxes in 2018.
“We face interference in the Executive, of the most varied possible,” the president said the day before yesterday, a few hours before his absence to testify was confirmed.
The clash against members of the STF was accompanied by a reinforcement in the campaign to hinder childhood vaccination against Covid-19 with the help of the Ministry of Health. The ministry published on its website this week a technical note that raised legal arguments to argue that childhood vaccination is not mandatory, a publication interpreted as merely an attempt to discourage Brazilian parents from taking their children to be inoculated.
The president continues to raise the tone against vaccination in children by wrongly stating that “there are no deaths” in the 5 to 11-year-old age bracket. In addition, he even slipped – without offering any proof – that the release of vaccination in that age group could be just a response from the health agency to a lobby from the laboratories.
A new poll by the consultancy Ipespe published on Thursday again showed Lula comfortably leading the race towards the first round of October 2 with 44% voting intention, followed by Bolsonaro with 24%. Further back, with about 8%, were the former Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro and the former Minister of Finance Ciro Gomes.
According to political scientist Paulo Baía, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro is in “survival”.
“The president remains stable in the polls, he does not grow or lose support, and for that he needs to continue talking to his public and gaining their loyalty. Right now, their strategy is clear: hold on to their base to reach the second round in October,” Baía said.
The constant firing of Bolsonaro to the anti-vaccine movement generates some internal tensions and annoyance between parliamentarians of the so-called centrão bloc that make up the official base in the Legislative. Beyond the setback that the surveys have been giving the Brazilian president, the rejection of vaccination in children against Covid-19, an obsession of Bolsonaro, finds little echo in Brazilians.
Almost 80% of the population supports childhood vaccination, according to a Datafolha survey published earlier this month. Faced with this scenario, some legislators fear that the anti-vaccine discourse could generate some additional electoral cost, precisely the year in which many will seek to renew their mandates in Congress.
“It seems very good to me that all parents who want to vaccinate their children do so. The State must guarantee the vaccines so that everyone who wants to can be immunized freely,” federal deputy for Rio de Janeiro Sóstenes Cavalcante, a member of the evangelical caucus for the Democrats (DEM) party and a man of frequent dialogue with the government, told the nation. President.
Leaders of the centrão close to Bolsonaro advised him to put aside the denial tone and focus on talking about the economy and, especially, on expenditures such as the Brazil Aid program that the government will deliver this year.
“I would like the president to release the vaccines for those who want it, period. He can make the decision he wants with his daughter, but he does not need to be insisting that others not vaccinate their children,” added Cavalcante.
Bolsonaro, who has not yet been vaccinated against the virus, has repeatedly reaffirmed that he does not plan to immunize his youngest daughter, Laura, 11.
The political agreement with the centrão bloc has earned the president criticism from his ideological base, who accused him of having politically handed over the government to the “old politics” reviled by him in the 2018 campaign.
Last week, former Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub and former Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, two of the highest exponents of the government of that wing, criticized the president for having distanced himself from the “ideological slogans” that helped him win the election. Almost as a response, Bolsonaro took advantage of the death of Olavo de Carvalho, considered a guru for Bolsonaroism, to deliver a gesture to that group and decreed a day of official mourning for the death of the writer.
Baía concluded: “The Brazilian president is not interested at this time in focusing on criticizing Lula. He has to make a speech to show that, despite the political agreement with the centrão, he is still the same Bolsonaro as before.”