Bolsonaro to Face Trial Over Electoral Fraud Claims
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 on June 22. The court aims to reach a decision this month, though the case could be delayed if any judge requests more time.
A rival political party has accused Mr. Bolsonaro of abusing the office of the presidency when, less than three months ahead of 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 Mr. 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 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 Mr. Bolsonaro, the standard-bearer of Brazil’s conservative movement, from contention for the next two presidential elections.
Mr. 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. Mr. Bolsonaro received 49.1 percent of the vote in the 2022 election, just 2.1 million votes behind Mr. 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 Mr. Bolsonaro’s tactics to undermine the vote, and a warning to any political allies who might be considering a similar strategy.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric resembled that of former President Donald J. Trump, a political ally. But the results for the two men could prove very different. Just six months after leaving office, Mr. Bolsonaro is facing charges that could end his political career. At the same time, while Mr. Trump faces investigations into his efforts to question the 2020 U.S. election, he is still the leading contender to become the Republican Party’s nominee in next year’s presidential vote.
The Background: Bolsonaro has long attacked Brazil’s elections.
Mr. 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 Mr. Lula stole the 2022 election.
Despite Mr. Bolsonaro’s assertions, numerous reviews of the election results found no credible evidence of fraud.
One week after Mr. Lula was inaugurated in January, many of Mr. 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, Mr. Bolsonaro did authorize the transition of power and, for the first several months of Mr. Lula’s presidency, receded into the background of Brazilian politics by temporarily moving to Florida. Mr. Bolsonaro is now back in Brazil and has been making more public appearances.
His lawyers have argued that his speech to diplomats, which is at the center of this case, was an “act of government” aimed at raising legitimate concerns about the election’s security. They have noted that the diplomats cannot vote and argued that the speech didn’t interfere with the electoral process.
Neither Mr. Bolsonaro’s lawyer nor his spokesman responded to requests for comment.
What’s Next: Bolsonaro faces a trial — and many other investigations
After starting on June 22, Mr. Bolsonaro’s trial will likely continue in other court sessions scheduled for June 27 and June 29. The seven judges on the electoral-court panel — made up of Supreme Court justices, federal judges and lawyers — could decide the case quickly, with a simple majority needed to convict. The electoral court is scheduled to break for a monthlong recess in July.
Regardless of the trial’s outcome, Mr. Bolsonaro faces 15 other cases in the electoral court, including those involving accusations that he improperly used public funds to influence the vote and that his campaign ran a coordinated misinformation campaign against Mr. Lula. A conviction in any case could also deem him ineligible for office for eight years.
Mr. Bolsonaro is also a subject of a federal criminal investigation into the Jan. 8 invasion of Brazil’s government buildings. A top Brazilian prosecutor has accused him of encouraging the mob. A conviction in the case could lead to prison time. As part of the case, Mr. Bolsonaro testified in April before federal police.
Letícia Casado contributed reporting from Brasília.
Jack Nicas is the Brazil bureau chief, covering Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. He previously reported on technology from San Francisco and, before joining The Times in 2018, spent seven years at The Wall Street Journal. @jacknicas • Facebook
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