What led to the storming of Brazil's congress?

Ever since he narrowly won the election last October, Brazil has been braced for a violent rejection of its new President Lula. John Ray reports on the striking attack to one of the world's major democracies.

The storming of Brazil's Congress may have shocked the nation, but it is only the pinnacle of years of fierce political infighting that has left both sides sure the other will destroy their country.

On Sunday thousands of supporters of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace.

No politicians were working at the time and president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was away from the capital Brasilia.

But this has not stopped president Lula and many other senior politicians from swiftly and harshly criticising the scenes.

Tough punishments have been promised for those who took part and the president has also criticised security forces in the capital for not containing the rioters.

But how did this happen and what did supporters of a former president hope to achieve?

A divided election

In October Brazil held its closest and most bitter election in decades.

In scenes similar to the US presidential election of 2020 a left-wing candidate with decades of experience at the top of Brazillian politics faced off against a fire-brand far-right political newcomer who was seeking re-election.

Lula, who served as president between 2003 and 2010, won after a narrow run-off, but many Bolsonaro supporters refused to accept the result.

Bolsanaro supporters were hoping to trigger a military intervention. Credit: AP

Bolsonaro himself made this worse by saying throughout the campaign that Brazil's election system was prone to fraud, without providing any evidence.

He also refused to accept the election and did not attend Lula's inauguration earlier this month.

A divided nation

The election laid bare the divisions in Brazilian society that have been brewing for years.

Both sides detest the others candidate, with Bolsonaro supporters viewing Lula as corrupt.

Jair Bolsonaro has refused to accept the elections result. Credit: AP

Lula spent more than a year in jail after being convicted of corruption in 2017.

He was later released and the verdict was annulled after the supreme court ruled the judge who issued the verdict was biased.

The judge later became a minister in Bolsonaro's government.

But despite the ruling, many opponents of Lula say he still engaged in corruption while he was in office.

On the other side of the debate, Lula supporters believe Bolsonaro is a criminal who is unqualified for the high office he held.

They point to the numerous scandals he caused throughout his term and the impact this caused on Brazil's international reputation.

Refusal to accept the vote

After Lula was declared the winner of the election many Bolsonaro supporters refused to accept the vote.

Many gathered outside military barracks, questioning results and pleading with the armed forces to prevent Lula from taking office.

On December 12, dozens of people tried to invade a federal police building in Brasilia and burned cars and buses in other areas of the city.

Then on Christmas Eve, police arrested a 54-year-old man who admitted to making a bomb that was found on a fuel engine headed to Brasilia’s airport.

President Lula surveying the damage. Credit: AP

He told police he was ready for war against communism and planned the attack with people he had met at the protests, according to excerpts of his deposition released by local media.Bolsonaro did condemn the bomb plot a week later, but he has kept a low profile since the election.

He did not attend the inauguration and is believed to be in Florida at the moment.Congress stormed

With the military refusing to step in many Bolsonaro supporters believed they needed to step in.

Thousands gathered in the capital over the weekend and hoped to force a military intervention.

Rioters smashed windows, vandalised buildings and trashed several key rooms where the very highest decisions in Brazil are made.

Justice Minister Flávio Dino said the acts amounted to terrorism, adding that authorities have begun tracking those who paid for the buses that transported protesters to the capital.Hundreds of arrests have already been made.

Government officials have also heavily criticised the security forces in charge of the capital who appeared undermanned and ill-equipped to deal with the riots - despite ample warning.

One video showed a group of protesters pushing through a police barricade with limited struggle, and only a few officers deploying pepper spray.

Authorities have circuited the police's response to the protests. Credit: AP

Another showed officers standing by as protesters stormed Congress, including one recording images on his phone.

Lula said at a news conference there was "incompetence or bad faith" on the part of police, and he promised some would be punished.

Federal District Governor Ibaneis Rocha confirmed on Twitter he had fired the capital city’s head of public security.

To many, the events of January 8, 2023 will mirror the events of January 6, 2020 in the US.

After a political period that mirrored past events in the states so closely, many Lula supporters will hope the controversy surrounding Sunday will blow the wind out of Bolsanoro's backers, much like they did for Donald Trump.