Brazil’s government deployed additional armed forces across the country to head off expected far-right demonstrations, hours after former president Jair Bolsonaro posted a video online that questioned the result of the October election.
Late on Tuesday night, the administration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who took office on January 1 after the leftwing leader defeated Bolsonaro, said extremist groups were planning nationwide protests on Wednesday night to overthrow the new president.
The government, which cited social media posts calling for a “mega national protest for the takeover of power”, deployed extra security forces in the capital, Brasília, and state capitals to pre-empt the demonstrations.
But by Wednesday night, it appeared the call to protest had flopped, with only a handful of demonstrators turning up in the Brazilian capital.
The threats came days after thousands of pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators stormed the nation’s Congress, supreme court and presidential palace, demanding the military intervene to remove the leftwing Lula from power.
More than 1,500 far-right activists were arrested following the unrest on Sunday as police dismantled pro-Bolsonaro encampments outside military bases across the country.
The protesters claim, without evidence, that October’s election was rigged and have called for the armed forces to launch a coup.
On Tuesday night, Bolsonaro — who defied tradition by travelling to the US rather than attending his successor’s inauguration — added fuel to the fire by posting a video on Facebook that openly questioned Lula’s election victory.
“Lula was not elected by the people. He was elected by the supreme court and the electoral court,” it stated, reinforcing a key far-right conspiracy theory that the courts had rigged the election in favour of Lula.
Bolsonaro deleted the video, but his supporters are likely to interpret it as a call to action. His opponents say it is further evidence of the need to prosecute the former president, who has said he will return to Brazil shortly to receive medical treatment.
“It’s past time,” said Felipe Neto, a prominent celebrity and critic of Bolsonaro, on Twitter. “Bolsonaro posted a video on his Facebook saying openly that Lula was NOT elected by the people. He directly attacked the [supreme court and electoral court].”
The surge in far-right extremism comes amid fresh polls that suggest many Brazilians have concerns about the integrity of the election, which Lula won by less than two percentage points.
According to a survey by Atlas Intelligence, almost 40 per cent of respondents said Lula did not win more votes than Bolsonaro.
The election, which took place over two rounds, was monitored by myriad international observers, who deemed it free, fair and reliable.
Lula, who served two terms as president between 2003 and 2010, has taken a hard line on far-right extremists following the events on Sunday. He has called them “vandals and fascists [who] have to be punished”.
The government has requested the supreme court take measures to crack down on protesters, including arrests, the blocking of accounts in messaging groups and the identification of vehicles involved in protests.
A crisis cabinet also decided to reinforce security in state capitals. The presidential guard, cavalry regiments and military police units were put on standby in Brasília.
“The country is on the verge of entering a serious situation again, after the tragic events of Sunday 8th, when the world, appalled, watched the attempt to completely destroy the tangible and intangible heritage,” said the government petition to the Supreme Court. “Institutions are again called to react.”
Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza