Thousands of Brazilians flocked to a law school Thursday in defense of the nation's democratic institutions, an event that echoed a gathering nearly 45 years ago when citizens joined together at the same site to denounce a brutal military dictatorship. In 1977, the masses poured into the University of Sao Paulo's law school to listen to a reading of "A Letter to Brazilians," a manifesto calling for a prompt return of the rule of law. On Thursday, they heard declarations defending democracy and the country's elections systems, which President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked ahead of his reelection bid, the AP reports. While the current manifestos don't name Bolsonaro, they underscore widespread concerns that the far-right leader may follow in Donald Trump's footsteps and reject election results not in his favor in an attempt to cling to power.
"We are at risk of a coup, so civil society must stand up and fight against that to guarantee democracy," said José Carlos Dias, a former justice minister who helped write the 1977 letter and the two documents read Thursday. In Sao Paulo, drivers stuck in traffic on one of the main roads to the law school applauded and honked as marching students chanted pro-democracy slogans. A huge inflatable electronic voting machine by the building's main entrance bore the slogan "Respect the Vote." Inside, hundreds of guests in the university’s Great Hall heard speeches, while others stood outside watching on large flat screens.
The proclamations are contained in two letters. The first went online on July 26 and has been signed by nearly 1 million citizens, including ordinary people; popular musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Anitta; high-profile bankers and executives; and presidential candidates, among them former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all polls ahead of the October election. The second letter, published in newspapers last Friday, carries the endorsement of hundreds of companies in banking, oil, construction, and transportation—sectors that historically have been averse to taking public political stances, said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo. They appear to have made an exception now, given the fear that any democratic backslide would be bad for business, he said. "Democracy is important for the economy," Melo said, per the AP.
For over a year, in actions that appear to be lifted from the former US president's playbook, Bolsonaro has claimed Brazil's electronic voting machines are prone to fraud, though—like Trump—he never presented evidence. At one point, he threatened that elections would be suspended if Congress didn't approve a bill to introduce printed receipts of votes. The bill didn't pass. Bolsonaro also expressed desire for greater involvement of the armed forces in election oversight. Last week, army officials visited the electoral authority’s headquarters to inspect the voting machines’ source codes. Bolsonaro has alleged that some of the authority's top officials are working against him. At the law school on Thursday, Carlos Silveira carried a sign that read: "The military doesn't count votes." He said, "We want to show them we are the majority, and that our quest for democracy will win." Last year, Bolsonaro declared before tens of thousands who rallied at his behest that only God can remove him from power.
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