If the president of Brazil attempts a coup, what will the police do?

In Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2014, for example, a watershed moment came when the country’s riot police, having lost faith in the government’s ability to protect them from prosecution or other consequences, refused to evict protesters. from the square they had occupied in the capital. His departure from government proved to be a turning point, and he collapsed soon after.

During the January 6 riots at the US Capitol, by contrast, decisive action by the Capitol Police protected members of Congress and their staff, ultimately bringing the riots under control.

The police can also take a more direct role in electoral crises, of course. In Kenya in 2007, for example, the country erupted in violence after credible accusations of electoral fraud against the incumbent president. Later, an official research found evidence that the government had deployed 1,600 plainclothes police “to act as government agents in disrupting or participating in electoral processes,” and that police officers subsequently killed more than 400 people and committed rape, looting and other criminal acts. crimes during the post-election violence.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro has spent years seeking support among the country’s military police officers, heavily armed units that were once part of the armed forces during the country’s years of dictatorship but now report to civilian governors, he said. Yanilda María González, political scientist at Harvard University. scientist studying policing in the Americas. That has raised concerns that police could back Bolsonaro in a coup attempt, refuse to act against an uprising by his supporters or go on strike if his opponent is declared the winner.

Adilson Paes de Souza, a retired military police lieutenant colonel who is now a researcher in police psychology, said he believes the military police are, as individuals, mostly pro-Bolsonaro. But personal support does not necessarily mean that the police as an institution would participate or refuse to intervene in a post-election uprising or coup.

Over the past year, state authorities have taken steps to suppress the political activity of the police, who are prohibited from making public political statements. In August 2021, for example, the governor of São Paulo switched on a police commander who had posted a public call on Facebook for people to attend a Bolsonaro rally on September 7, Brazil’s independence day. That same week, the governors of the country’s states raised the issue of police support for Bolsonaro in a meeting, and reiterated the importance of ensuring that they remain within legal and constitutional limits.

The Supreme Court has also sent strong signals that it will not cooperate with any attempted coup by Bolsonaro or his supporters. The court has dramatically expanded its own powers in recent years in an effort to counter Bolsonaro, though many experts now warn that the court’s efforts have taken an authoritarian turn, undermining the legitimacy of a crucial institution of Brazilian democracy.