Brazil’s Bolsonaro hits out at ex-minister-turned-rival

Far-right president, set to join new political party ahead of 2022 vote, says Sergio Moro ‘learned nothing’ in gov’t.

jair bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has seen his popularity plummet amid criticism for his government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic [Evaristo Sa/AFP]

Brazil’s embattled far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has hit out at his former justice minister Sergio Moro, saying the potential opposition presidential candidate has “no idea” what it means to be president.

Bolsonaro’s comments on Thursday come a day after the centre-right Liberal Party (PL) announced the president, who has been without a political party since 2019, would join its ranks ahead of elections next year.

Bolsonaro is required to join a party to seek re-election in the October 2022 polls, in which he expected to face a stiff challenge from former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – though Lula has yet to formally announce his candidacy.

Moro, a former federal judge who rose to fame for leading a sweeping corruption probe that jailed a series of powerful businessmen and politicians including Lula, re-entered the political fray on Wednesday. He has joined the Podemos Party, presenting himself as a unifying centrist.

“Did you like his speech yesterday?,” Bolsonaro asked supporters as he left the presidential palace in Brasilia on Thursday.

Moro (R), Bolsonaro’s former justice minister, has presented himself as a unifying centrist [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

“The guy was reading. I watched because he used to be my minister. He learned nothing. One year and four months in the job and he has no idea what it means to be president, not even to be a minister,” Bolsonaro added.

The far-right leader has faced mounting pressure to account for his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as criticism for alleged involvement in corruption – accusations that he denies.

Mass protests have taken place in recent months across Brazil, with demonstrators calling for Bolsonaro to resign. The South American nation has recorded more than 610,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 and more than 21.9 million cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

The Brazilian president recently also has sowed doubt in the country’s electoral system, saying that electronic voting is vulnerable to fraud without providing any evidence to back up his claims – and in contradiction of judicial experts.

Critics say Bolsonaro is using those fraud claims to prepare to contest the results of next year’s vote, a strategy used in the United States by ex-President Donald Trump, whom the Brazilian leader has long praised.

Opinion polls put Bolsonaro well behind his main rival, Lula, ahead of next year’s vote, and his popularity has plummeted to a low of 22 percent – largely due to the pandemic, corruption allegations, and stalled economic recovery efforts.

In late October, a Senate commission investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic approved a report that calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted for nine crimes related to the COVID-19 crisis in Brazil, including crimes against humanity.

The 66-year-old leader has gone through eight parties in his more than three-decade political career, winning the presidency in 2018 with the Social Liberal Party (PSL).

Bolsonaro resigned from the party in November 2019, however, after a power struggle with its leadership. He then tried to launch his own party, dubbed the Alliance for Brazil, but fell short of the signatures and other requirements needed to register it.

Despite running in 2018 as an outsider opposed to “old-school politics”, Bolsonaro has since struck up an alliance with the “centrao”, whose votes in Congress have helped him pass legislation and shielded him from the scores of impeachment petitions opponents have filed against him.

The PL “is the face of the ‘centrao'”, political scientist Andre Cesar of consulting firm Hold told the AFP news agency. “The most important thing for that party is to be close to power.”

Bolsonaro “will sign his membership papers on November 22 in a Liberal Party event to be held in Brasilia”, the party said in a statement on Wednesday, after its leader met with the president.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies