Two years later, that minister, Sérgio Moro, is out of presidency. The corruption investigation is on life assist. The coronavirus response has become a graft bonanza. And the president, who’s himself being investigated by the supreme court docket for alleged misconduct, is declaring that public malfeasance is now not a problem.

“I don’t need to finish Lava Jato; I ended Lava Jato,” Bolsonaro mentioned final month, shortly earlier than one among his prime congressional allies was discovered with wads of money stuffed into his underpants. “There isn’t any extra corruption within the authorities.”

Quite than constructing on the momentum established over years of anti-corruption efforts — and capitalizing on overwhelming public assist to crack down on political wrongdoing — Brazil seems to be regressing in its quest to stamp out the malfeasance.

The hole between the promise and the truth was made stark this month when Bolsonaro’s son Flávio, a senator, was charged with embezzlement and cash laundering. Rio de Janeiro prosecutors allege that he took public cash meant to pay legislative aides when he served within the state meeting. One other son, Carlos, a Rio metropolis council member, has been accused of comparable conduct. (Each have denied wrongdoing.)

“Sadly, on this presidency, the anti-corruption agenda has been deserted,” Moro instructed The Washington Submit. “This was one of many principal causes that I left.”

In a rustic the place the problem of corruption has not often been the highest concern, there may be now a way {that a} uncommon second has handed and a chance missed. With a lot consideration targeted on the coronavirus — which has killed practically 170,000 Brazilians and contaminated greater than 6 million — corruption has receded from the general public debate.

“We feared that there can be setbacks,” mentioned Bruno Brandão, the manager director of Transparency Worldwide in Brazil. “What we’re seeing is the affirmation of what we had feared, and never solely there are poor advances, however very severe setbacks. It’s very regarding and disappointing.”

In the course of the 2018 presidential marketing campaign, Bolsonaro introduced himself as uniquely positioned to rid the nation of corruption. As a fringe politician with few legislative achievements, he had been too far faraway from the nation’s political elite to have been concerned in Brazil’s largest scandals. He was a member of what’s known as right here the “baixo clero” — the low clergy.

Corruption had by no means been central to his political messaging. He’d been way more involved with hailing Brazil’s navy dictatorship, taking umbrage with leftist social insurance policies and making feedback that shocked and offended. However because the marketing campaign accelerated, he echoed the calls to dispose of corruption — and located an viewers.

“The evils and harms of corruption have an effect on the inhabitants in each method,” he mentioned earlier than the election. “That is what we need to cease. A corrupt authorities stimulates crime in all areas.”

Then, after his victory, when he chosen Moro — the stone-faced jurist known as the “super-judge” — to be his justice minister, Brazilians noticed proof he was severe. The so-called lavajatistas, the Brazilians most eager on ending corruption, fashioned one of many largest and most sturdy segments of his political base.

“He had the anti-corruption flag, even when he was not an anti-corruption politician,” mentioned Alexandre Bandeira, a political analyst in Brasilia. “It was the appropriate politics in the appropriate second.”

When Moro resigned in April, he accused Bolsonaro of misconduct. He mentioned the president had tried to exchange a police chief in Rio de Janeiro to doubtlessly block investigations into his household and associates. The supreme court docket is investigating the allegations.

Moro, extensively thought of a number one challenger to Bolsonaro within the 2022 presidential election, mentioned he left feeling disillusioned. When he got here into workplace, he mentioned he acknowledged anti-corruption efforts as “important, given Brazil’s current historical past.”

On the time, “there was a perspective that the elected president would have a posture extra thought of than when his conventional posture as a congressman,” he mentioned. However that didn’t occurred, he mentioned. Bolsonaro “has given a nasty instance, not solely by his discourse, however his actions, his actions.”

Bolsonaro’s workplace didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.

The abdication of the anti-corruption mantle dangers damaging Bolsonaro’s political assist at a time when he seems more and more susceptible. Latest analysis suggests his erratic conduct in the course of the pandemic — which he has minimized at each flip — has taken a political toll. A few of his 2018 voters have turned in opposition to him. Most of the candidates he supported on this week’s municipal elections misplaced.

Bolsonaro’s approval rankings have risen in current months, buoyed by rising recognition among the many poor. However political analysts warn that the assist is tenuous. The nation, which has been pumping cash into the pockets of the poorest to offset the coronavirus financial fallout, is not going to be paying the profit indefinitely.

Esther Solano, a sociologist with the Federal College of São Paulo, has spent years interviewing Bolsonaro supporters. She mentioned the corruption scandals received’t shake the assist among the many most trustworthy. They’ll see Bolsonaro as a sufferer of political persecution.

Or they’ll “relativize” the scandals, mentioned Nara Pavão, a political scientist at Federal College of Pernambuco. “Many individuals will suppose, ‘What he’s doing is nothing in comparison with what the final authorities did.’ We have now a whole lot of empirical proof of this.”

However reactions could possibly be completely different amongst his extra average followers, Solano mentioned. They initially supported Bolsonaro not for his ideology, however as a result of he promised to handle the nation’s most urgent points.

“For the extra average, these corruption allegations are being paid consideration to, and it’s having a damaging affect on Bolsonaro’s picture,” Solano mentioned. “His middle-class voters are very disillusioned with the departure of Sérgio Moro.”

It’s more and more clear, analysts say, that the platform Bolsonaro ran on in 2018 is not going to be out there to him for the subsequent presidential marketing campaign in 2022. Unable to place himself as an anti-corruption outsider, he’ll must discover a new base of assist — maybe among the many poor, if he can discover a option to proceed or widen the social security web.

“If Bolsonaro is reelected or not, it must be one other story for him and his base,” Bandeira mentioned. “He might want to transition.”

Heloísa Traiano contributed to this report.