International warnings about efforts to “subvert democracy” in Brazil are growing, just days before voters head to the polls for a presidential election that has deepened divisions in the South American nation.
Right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that he may reject the results if he loses, as most opinion polls have shown him trailing his left-wing rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The US Senate late on Wednesday passed a resolution backing a free election in Brazil and denouncing “efforts to incite political violence and undermine the electoral process”.
The symbolic measure, adopted unanimously, calls on the United States government to “immediately” recognise the outcome of the October 2 vote if it is determined to be fair by international observers.
It also urges the Biden administration to “review and reconsider the relationship between the United States [and] any government that comes to power in Brazil through undemocratic means, including a military coup”.
The vote on Sunday pits Bolsonaro against Lula, who an opinion poll this week showed held a commanding, 13-percentage-point lead.
Several other candidates are also seeking the presidency. If none wins a majority of the votes, a second round of voting is scheduled for October 30. The candidates are a set for a final debate later on Thursday.
Reporting from Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, Al Jazeera’s Manuel Rapalo said the election has sharply polarised the country, with Bolsonaro’s supporters painting his rival as a communist and Lula’s backers viewing the president as a right-wing radical.
“One thing that voters here do have in common is that many … see this election as a critical battle over the future of Brazilian democracy,” Rapalo said.
For months, Bolsonaro has been making unfounded allegations that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to widespread fraud – charges that rights groups fear may be setting the stage for him to dispute the results to stay in power.
Other experts also have raised concerns that Bolsonaro’s supporters could take to the streets in large numbers should he fail to be re-elected, and that political violence could break out.
On Wednesday, US lawmaker Bernie Sanders, a lead sponsor of the Senate resolution, said the measure aimed to send a message that Congress supports democracy in Brazil.
“It would be unacceptable for the United States to recognize a government that came to power undemocratically, and it would send a horrific message to the entire world,” Sanders said in a statement.
“It is important for the people of Brazil to know we’re on their side, on the side of democracy.”
This week, dozens of European lawmakers also urged the EU to “take additional steps to make it unequivocally clear to President Bolsonaro and his government that Brazil’s constitution must be respected and attempts to subvert the rules of democracy are unacceptable”.
On Sunday there are elections in Brazil! Bolsonaro has repeatedly & without reason attacked the electronic voting system. Together with my colleagues, I am calling on EC-President @vonderleyen & HR @JosepBorrellF to monitor the situation & support democratic institutions in ?? pic.twitter.com/tcoyxCJLck
— Anna Cavazzini (@anna_cavazzini) September 28, 2022
In a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the parliamentarians said it was “crucial” to dissuade Brazil’s military leadership from supporting “a coup”.
Brazil was under authoritarian military rule from 1964 to 1985, and Bolsonaro – a former army captain – has expressed admiration for the former regime, which has been described as a “brutal dictatorship” by rights groups.
“The EU should state that it will use different levers, including trade, to defend Brazil’s democracy and human rights,” the European lawmakers said.
With nearly 215 million people, Brazil is the second-most populous country in the Western Hemisphere after the US.
It is home to huge parts of the Amazon rainforest, frequently called “the lungs of the planet”, which has been under increased threats of deforestation.
Climate advocates have criticised Bolsonaro’s government for weakening environmental regulations and supporting mining in the Amazon.
Lula has promised to protect the rainforest and crack down on illegal mining and logging if elected.
Last week, United Nations experts denounced threats, intimidation and political violence in the lead-up to the elections in Brazil. “We call on the authorities to protect and duly respect the work of the electoral institutions,” they said.
In August, Human Rights Watch pointed the finger at Bolsonaro for “using a mixture of insults and threats to intimidate independent media and the Supreme Court”.
Amnesty International earlier this month also accused Bolsonaro of using “anti-human rights discourse” in advance of the elections.