Brazil’s elections are just two weeks away, but President Jair Bolsonaro decided to put his campaign on hold and leave the country for a four-day trip abroad.
The right-wing leader arrived in London to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday and planned to open the United Nations General Assembly in New York the next day.
Allies hope Bolsonaro’s trip will sway some voters, give him some weight after nearly four years of at odds with other world leaders, and provide material for TV ads.
Bolsonaro is behind ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in opinion polls, and the other candidates are far behind. The left da Silva, who ruled from 2003 to 2010, hopes to win 50% of the vote on October 2 and avoid a runoff against the incumbent.
Bolsonaro declared three days of national mourning in Brazil following the death of the 96-year-old British monarch, and the funeral will be Bolsonaro’s first official visit to the UK. On a trip to Japan in 2019, he met the new monarch, King Charles III.
At the time, Bolsonaro described Charles, an avid environmentalist, as “a person who, like the rest of the world, is wrong about the Amazon.” The Bolsonaro government is often accused by environmentalists of not working to stop deforestation in the Amazon region and of ignoring environmental crimes there.
After the funeral, Bolsonaro was scheduled to travel to New York to keep up the tradition of Brazilian presidents speaking first at the gathering.
According to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, Bolsonaro’s speech in New York is likely to have an electoral approach, as well as elements suggested by Brazil’s diplomatic team.
“He is the head of state and government, but also a candidate for re-election. This separation is necessary, but not always perfect,” said Brazil’s UN Ambassador Paulino Neto.
Bolsonaro himself made the connections between the election and his overseas push clear when speaking at a campaign rally in the southern state of Parana on Friday.
He told supporters to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth to represent Brazil. “And every day Brazil interacts and integrates with other countries around the world. Brazil is a fantastic country, everyone wants to do business with us,” he said.
Oliver Stuenkel, a foreign policy professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro wanted to show voters he was 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 that he can ensure some stability and predictability in terms of values and to respond to criticism that he is isolated in the world,” Stuenkel said. “And New York will give it a global stage. He’ll make headlines for a few days.”