BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro skipped a congressional celebration of the country’s independence bicentennial on Thursday, a day after he used the national festivities as a campaign event for his reelection.
His absence on short notice added to a rift with top congressional authorities and Supreme Court justices who themselves had broken a long tradition by avoiding Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations — a military parade that Bolsonaro had turned into a rally of his supporters in the capital, Brasilia.
Tens of thousands of Bolsonaro supporters took the streets of Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo on Wednesday to show their backing for the president, though he trails former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the polls ahead of October’s elections.
While congressional leaders were holding their own ceremony on Thursday, to which Bolsonaro had been invited, he remained at the presidential residence, where he met supporters in the morning and made live transmissions on social media.
Former Brazilian presidents either turned up at the event or sent official letters justifying their absence.
Sen. Rodrigo Pacheco, the chairman of Brazil’s Congress, told journalists after the ceremony he had not shown up for the military parade on Wednesday because he didn’t see a clear separation between the official event and a campaign rally.
“I also believed that today the three powers (branches of government) would celebrate the bicentenary in Congress," Pacheco said.
Brazil’s foreign minister, Carlos França, was the highest ranking Bolsonaro administration official attending the congressional session.
During his speech to supporters on Wednesday, Bolsonaro avoided renewing direct criticism of the courts and Congress, but focused on criticism of his election rival, da Silva.
Five parties have filed complaints with the electoral court arguing he should be disqualified for using the government event as a campaign rally.
Associated Press journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo