For a foreign head of state to attend the funeral of a monarch is hardly unprecedented or surprising, but something doesn’t quite add up about Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro flying to London to take part in the memorial service for Queen Elizabeth II.
For one thing, death and mourning have never been high on Mr. Bolsonaro’s priority list. Throughout his presidential term — which has coincided with over 680,000 Covid deaths — the head of state has rarely expressed condolences, with the exception of the suicide of far-right rapper MC Reaça, TV presenter Jô Soares, and now Queen Elizabeth II.
In fact, Brazil’s Covid victims became a sick punchline for Mr. Bolsonaro, with him famously imitating a suffocating patient during a social media live broadcast. Indeed, he also derided vaccines, and encouraged public gatherings during the deadliest period of the pandemic.
Furthermore, his trip to London comes at the crucial moment of the election campaign, as he hopes to claw back enough support to force the race to a runoff against clear frontrunner and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
As opposed to campaigning and pressing flesh in Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro hopes that the coverage he will get in the UK will portray him as an international statesman.
And there is an odd side effect of Mr. Bolsonaro’s impromptu trip. Brazil cannot be without a head of state at any point, meaning that someone from the line of succession has to stand in. However, Vice President Hamilton Mourão and House Speaker Arthur Lira — the two next in line — are both running for election this year. If they occupy the presidency for even a minute during the campaign, they would become ineligible.
They have had to organize their own last-minute international trips to keep their election hopes alive, at the expense of crucial campaign time. Mr. Mourão will travel to Peru, while Mr. Lira is on his way to the UN General Assembly in New York.