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Brazil: Bolsonaro’s controversial presidency

With Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro railing against the country’s electoral system after his supporters rallied to defend him from a political establishment he claims is stacked against him, here is a look back on his eventful time in power.

First far-right president

On October 28, 2018, Brazil elects Bolsonaro its first far-right leader. His win comes more than three decades after the end of the country’s military dictatorship, for which Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is openly nostalgic.

On New Year’s day 2019 Bolsonaro takes office vowing to “restore order” and launches a crusade against crime, corruption and “leftist ideology.”

Pro-gun bill

Bolsonaro moves quickly to relax gun laws in one of the world’s most violent countries, allowing people to carry weapons in public and dramatically widening the definition of self-defense.

Many of his changes, however, are watered down by lawmakers.

In hospital

Bolsonaro, who was stabbed in a knife attack on the campaign trail, undergoes abdominal surgery in late January, 2019.

During his two-week hospital stay, he continues to run the country from his bed.

Pensions and privatization

Bolsonaro later increases the retirement age as part of an austerity drive and in 2019 begins selling off state assets including the electricity provider, Rio de Janeiro’s water company and some 20 ports and airports.

His government hopes to eventually raise $85 billion from around 100 privatisations.

Education cuts

That May tens of thousands of students and teachers twice protest across Brazil in defense of education, in response to a raft of budget cuts announced by Bolsonaro’s government.

Amazon burns

In August and September 2019, massive fires caused by deforestation scorch whole sections of the Amazon, provoking a chorus of global criticism for Bolsonaro’s policies.

Under Bolsonaro, the destruction of Brazil’s portion of the world’s biggest rainforest has accelerated to around 10,000 square kilometers (3,860 square miles) per year, an area about the size of Lebanon, from an average of 6,500 square kilometers annually during the previous decade.

Opening up indigenous land

In February 2020, Bolsonaro introduces a controversial bill that would open up indigenous lands to mining, agricultural activities and hydraulic energy production.

Indigenous leaders label it a “genocide bill.”

Coronavirus outlier

Brazil reports its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on February 26, 2020.

In a series of controversial moves that spark protests, Bolsonaro dismisses the virus as a “little flu,” defies WHO recommendations and slams what he calls “scorched earth” lockdown measures, pushing instead to use drugs such as chloroquine despite evidence it is ineffective against Covid-19.

In mid-April 2020 Bolsonaro fires his pro-lockdown health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the first in a series of clashes with the ministry.

He is currently on his fourth health minister of the pandemic.

Justice minister resigns

Justice minister Sergio Moro resigns on April 24 over the sacking of the federal police chief, accusing Bolsonaro of political interference.

The departure of the former judge, an anti-corruption crusader who jailed leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for taking a bribe, marks a break with the anti-graft movement that helped sweep Bolsonaro to power.

Lula candidacy

In April 2021 the Supreme Court upholds a ruling annulling Lula’s convictions, clearing the way for him to run for a new term next year.

Supporters say the ruling shows Lula was the victim of a conspiracy to remove the left from power.

Bolsonaro says it means “Lula is now a candidate” for the October 2022 elections — and ominously warns of the consequences.

Lula currently leads Bolsonaro by a wide margin in pre-election polls, though neither has officially declared himself a candidate.

Attacks on electoral system

In August the Superior Electoral Court decides to investigate Bolsonaro for his constant and unproven attacks on the legitimacy of the electronic voting system, established in 1996.

Critics draw parallels with the attacks on the 2020 US elections by former president Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s political role model.

The Supreme Court meanwhile orders investigations against Bolsonaro and his entourage, in particular for disseminating false information.

Bolsonaro doubles down on September 7, telling a massive crowd in Sao Paulo that he refuses to take part in an election “farce” in 2022 and “only God” can remove him from power.

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