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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bolsonaro to face trial over electoral fraud claims

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Friday, March 3, 2023.

By Jack Nicas

Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, is scheduled to go on trial this month on charges that he abused his power as president to make baseless attacks against Brazil’s election systems. If convicted, he would be ineligible to run for office for eight years.

A panel of seven judges in Brazil’s electoral court will decide the case, which is scheduled to start June 22. The court aims to reach a decision this month, although the case could be delayed if any judge requests more time.

A rival political party has accused Bolsonaro of abusing the office of the presidency when, less than three months before Brazil’s elections last year, he summoned foreign diplomats to a meeting, made false claims about the country’s voting systems and broadcast the remarks on state television.

Brazil’s top prosecutor for electoral cases recommended that Bolsonaro be blocked from running for office because his speech to diplomats was intended to undermine the public’s confidence in Brazil’s elections.

“As the head of state making public critiques, it could only be understood as a warning to Brazilians and the world that the election results could not be seen as reliable and legitimate,” said the prosecutor, Paulo Gonet Branco, in a legal filing that is sealed but was viewed by The New York Times.

Why it matters: A conviction could end Bolsonaro’s political career

The trial could upend Brazilian politics by removing Bolsonaro, the standard-bearer of Brazil’s conservative movement, from contention for the next two presidential elections.

Bolsonaro, 68, remains a highly popular and influential figure among conservatives in Brazil and is seen as a likely challenger to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist, in 2026. Bolsonaro received 49.1% of the vote in the 2022 election, just 2.1 million votes behind Lula, in the nation’s closest presidential contest since Brazil’s democracy was restored in 1985 following a military dictatorship.

A conviction would also be a clear and strong repudiation of Bolsonaro’s tactics to undermine the vote, and a warning to any political allies who might be considering a similar strategy.

Bolsonaro’s rhetoric resembled that of former President Donald Trump, a political ally.

The background: Bolsonaro has long attacked Brazil’s elections

Bolsonaro spent years criticizing Brazil’s voting systems, claiming that they were vulnerable to fraud and that his rivals were bent on rigging them, despite a lack of evidence. His commentary led millions of his followers to lose faith in the election systems and believe that Lula stole the 2022 election.

Despite Bolsonaro’s assertions, numerous reviews of the election results found no credible evidence of fraud.

One week after Lula was inaugurated in January, many of Bolsonaro’s followers invaded and ransacked Brazil’s halls of power in a bid to get the military to take control of the government.

Still, Bolsonaro did authorize the transition of power and, for the first several months of Lula’s presidency, receded into the background of Brazilian politics by temporarily moving to Florida. Bolsonaro is now back in Brazil and has been making more public appearances.

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