Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Thursday in "defense of democracy" amid sustained attacks from President Jair Bolsonaro on the country's voting system. The rallies took place weeks ahead of key presidential elections in October.
Far-right Bolsonaro has been lagging in the polls behind left-wing former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In recent months Bolsonaro has attacked the electronic voting system and the Supreme Court justices who oversee elections in order to sow doubt about future election results.
Thursday's pro-democracy rallies swept major cities including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Recife. Protesters chanted "out with Bolsonaro" and held banners with slogans like "respect the vote."
More than 900,000 Brazilians, including union officials, high profile artists, intellectuals, business leaders and bankers also signed two manifestos defending the country's democratic institutions that were read out at the protests.
"After 200 years of independence in Brazil, we should be thinking about our future... but we are focused on preventing a regression," University of Sao Paulo rector Carlos Gilberto Junior told a gathering.
Former Justice Minister Jose Carlos Dias — who helped pen the manifestos — said the protests were an "unprecedented moment, in which capital and labor come together in defense of democracy."
Bolsonaro lagging in the polls
Observers fear that Bolsonaro's repeated attacks on Brazil's democratic institutions could be used to dispute the election result if he loses in October.
Last month, the president repeated his unfounded claims in a private meeting with foreign ambassadors, prompting the US embassy to later say Brazil's electoral system was a "model for the world."
Lula, the former left-wing president who was imprisoned over a corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, has consistently led opinion polls with over 40% of the vote. He maintains that his conviction was politically motivated.
On the day of the protests, Lula tweeted: "Our country used to be sovereign and respected. We need to get it back."
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has belittled the democratic manifestos as "little letters" and said that he respects the constitution. On Thursday, he mocked the demonstrations on Twitter: "Today, a very important act took place... Petrobras reduced, once again, the price of diesel."
zc/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)