Analysts love likening Jair Bolsonaro with Donald Trump. Mr Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former president, delighted them on 8 January, when his backers mounted a Capitol Hill-like siege on capital Brasilia’s Three Powers Square. The Square houses the congress, the supreme court and the president’s palace. The police were uninterested as vandalising bolsonaristas demanded the annulment of president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s legitimate election.

Mr Lula’s inauguration on 1 January provided the spark for the siege. Brasilia’s Three Powers Square and its key buildings were bursting with bolsonaristas. The vandal-happy mob went around smashing windows and shattering furniture. Though Mr Bolsonaro, now 67, is in a self-imposed exile in Florida, the insurrection bore the indelible stamp of the divisive far-right former president, who is yet to unequivocally and gracefully concede electoral defeat.

Rampageous and Devastating

The insurrection was not a spur-of-the-moment siege. The bolsonaristas have been preparing for this day since October 2022, when Mr Bolsonaro was routed by Mr Lula, now 76, in a close contest. The rioters appeared to have done a detailed recce of the Square as the siege progressed with precision. On 8 January, they were thus all over the place, screaming Mr Lula had stolen the presidential election and beseeching the army to take over.

Luckily, the Congress was on a break. Else, the siege would have endangered the lives of congressmen. The attack by bolsonaristas was as rampageous and devastating as the Mr Trump-instigated Capitol Hill insurrection in Washington on 6 January 2021. The damages inflicted by the bolsonaristas were extensive – ripped chambers of justice to ransacked furniture. They shot the siege on their mobiles as they ran amok with no democratic sense.

Insurrections Not Similar

The same bolsonaristas had celebrated the Capitol Hill insurrection on 6 January 2021. From there on, it has been clear to global Brazil-watchers Mr Bolsonaro will mount a similar insurrection, if he is defeated in the presidential elections. Diplomats, defence officers and commentators had warned beforehand of an insurrection by a trounced Mr Bolsonaro. After all, he was an ardent admirer of absolutists like Mr Trump.

Yet, both the insurrections are not similar in every aspect. In the Capitol Hill siege, Mr Trump’s backers were trying to halt official certification of the presidential election results to prevent the newly-elected Joseph Biden from being sworn in. However, when the bolsonaristas stormed the Three Power Square, Mr Lula  had taken over already as the president, for over a week, after the certification of his win by the electoral court.

Fascist and Vandalist Brushes

Moreover, the Capitol Hill siege was launched with the sole purpose of changing the elected government. The raid in Brasilia was not as heavily loaded with similar symbols. Forget these differences, Mr Lula lost no time in declaring emergency in Brasilia, until 31 January. He tarred the rioters with fascist and vandalist brushes. The fearless Mr Lula, a two-term former president, went on to accuse Mr Bolsonaro for the siege.

Rightly so. Mr Bolsonaro is yet to concede defeat and he was the prime instigator behind the siege. Worse, Mr Bolsonaro jetted off to Florida to avoid passing the presidential sash on to Mr Lula and was audacious enough to launch the insurrection in absentia. Yet, Mr Lula rounded up hundreds of bolsonaristas and retook the three key buildings by the end of the day on 8 January. A concerned Mr Lula vows to prosecute the raiders now.

Dilution a High Possibility

However, making the failed police accountable and ensuring similar insurrections do not happen in future will be Mr Lula’s challenges now. Though Mr Lula’s federal actions show his ability to do this, his focus on internal security may dilute his government’s progress on reforms and development. Unruly bolsonaristas, ironically covered in Brazil’s yellow-green national flag, were bent on making such dilution a high possibility.

Obsessed they are with conspiracy theories, bolsonaristas give a damn to development. This is why Brazil, Latin America’s largest country and one of the largest democracies in the world, is sure to wallow in economic misery. Yet, misguided bolsonaristas will continue to try handling transition of power. The coming days thus portend gloom for Brazil, which, until 1985, had agonised under a 21-year ordeal of military dictatorship.

In Conclusion

Sure, anti-democracy moves by Mr Bolsonaro and his lawless bunch will land an economically-distraught Brazil in the laps of dictators again. This nightmarish possibility makes Mr Lula’s job quite challenging. He needs to unite a terribly-polarised Brazil and rescue the economically-weak nation from the jaws of absolute poverty. Plus, he should call the fake-news spreading bolsonaristas out for their false propaganda and prove to Brazilians his election wasn’t stolen.

Mr Lula will take heart from how Mr Biden is rooting for Brazil’s democracy. Mr Bolsonaro will do so from how Mr Trump is helping him to upend the same. As this storm builds up, Brazil will get divided further. This is dangerous for Latin America’s democracy. Mr Bolsonaro’s hatred towards women, the coloured and the LGBTs makes him the most polarising Brazilian populist ever. His poison has begun to work on Brazil.