Brazil's Bolsonaro seeks votes ahead of queen's funeral

·3 min read

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has taken his reelection campaign on the road, delivering an open-air campaign speech Sunday in London, where he had come to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Allies hope Bolsonaro's four-day foreign trip will sway some voters and give him an image of gravitas after almost four years of rifts with other world leaders — while providing material for TV ads.

Bolsonaro trails former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in opinion polls, with the other candidates far back. The leftist da Silva, who governed from 2003 to 2010, is hoping to win 50% of the votes Oct. 2 and avoid a runoff against the incumbent.

Speaking to about 200 supporters gathered outside the Brazilian Embassy in London, Bolsonaro insisted the polls were wrong — and that he could win outright in the first round.

“Our flag will always be in these colors — green and yellow. Our motto is God, nation, family and freedom,” the right-wing leader said from an embassy balcony.

He later visited Westminster Hall, where the queen is lying in state, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro and evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia.

Bolsonaro declared three days of national mourning in Brazil after the death of Britain's 96-year-old monarch and the funeral will be Bolsonaro's first official visit to the United Kingdom. He met the new monarch, King Charles III, during a trip to Japan in 2019.

At the time, Bolsonaro described Charles, a keen environmentalist, as "a person who, like the rest of the world, is wrong about the Amazon." Bolsonaro's administration is frequently accused by environmentalists of not working to put a halt to deforestation in the Amazon region and ignoring environmental crimes there.

Bolsonaro was expected to meet the king again on Sunday at a reception at Buckingham Palace.

At least some Brazilians criticized his use of a funeral trip for politicking.

“It is an absolute disgrace for Brazil,” said lawmaker Joice Hasselmann, a former Bolsonaro backer, on her social media channels. “He transformed the queen’s funeral into a rally.”

Following the funeral, Bolsonaro was to travel to New York to maintain the tradition of Brazilian presidents being the first to speak at the assembly.

According to Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bolsonaro’s speech in New York will probably have an electoral approach as well as elements suggested by Brazil's diplomatic team.

“He’s head of state and government, but also a candidate for reelection. This separation is necessary, but not always perfect”, said Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Paulino Neto.

Bolsonaro himself made clear the ties between the election and his foray abroad while speaking at a campaign rally Friday in the southern state of Parana.

He told supporters that he should pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth to represent Brazil. “And each and every day, Brazil interacts and integrates with other countries around the world. Brazil is a fantastic country, everybody wants to do business with us,” he said.

Oliver Stuenkel, a foreign affairs professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro wants to show voters he is not isolated from international leaders. And he said Bolsonaro's conservative base, which includes monarchists, will be happy to see him at the royal funeral.

“What Bolsonaro wants is to ... show he can assure some stability and predictability in terms of values, and respond to the criticism saying he is isolated in the world,” Stuenkel said. “And New York will give him a global stage. He will secure headlines for a couple of days.”

____ Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.