Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, is due to stand trial this month on charges that he abused his powers as president to launch baseless attacks on Brazil’s electoral system. If found guilty, he is ineligible to run for eight years.
A panel of seven judges at Brazil’s election court will decide the case, which is scheduled to begin on June 22. The court aims to reach a decision this month, although the case could be postponed if a judge asks for more time.
A rival political party accused Bolsonaro of abusing the presidency when, less than three months before last year’s Brazilian election, he summoned foreign diplomats to a meeting, made false claims about the country’s voting system and broadcast those remarks on state television.
Brazil’s top prosecutor on the election case recommended that Bolsonaro be blocked from standing because his speech to diplomats was meant to undermine public confidence in Brazil’s elections. The only punishment prosecutors are seeking is to make Bolsonaro ineligible to run, which is a typical punishment for abuse of power in such cases.
“As a head of state making public criticism, it can only be understood as a warning to the people of Brazil and the world that the election results cannot be considered reliable and valid,” said the prosecutor, Paulo Gonet Branco, in the lawsuit. sealed but seen by The New York Times.
Why It Matters: Confidence could end Bolsonaro’s political career.
The trial could destabilize 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 hugely popular and influential figure in conservative circles in Brazil and is seen as a potential challenger to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist, in 2026. Bolsonaro received 49.1 percent of the vote in the 2022 election, only 2.1 million votes behind Mr Lula, in the closest presidential election since Brazil’s democracy was restored in 1985 following a military dictatorship.
Confidence would also be a clear and forceful repudiation of Bolsonaro’s tactics to tamper with the vote, and a warning to any political allies who might be considering a similar strategy.
Bolsonaro’s rhetoric is similar to that of former President Donald J. Trump, his political ally. But the results for the two men proved very different. Just six months after leaving office, Bolsonaro faces charges that could end his political career. At the same time, while Trump is facing investigations over his attempts to question the 2020 US election, he is still a leading contender to become the Republican nominee in next year’s presidential election.
Background: Bolsonaro has long attacked Brazil’s election.
Bolsonaro spent years criticizing Brazil’s voting system, claiming it was prone to fraud and that rivals tended to rig them, despite a lack of evidence. His comments made millions of his followers lose faith in the electoral system and believe that Mr Lula stole the 2022 election.
Despite Bolsonaro’s remarks, many reviews of the election results have found no credible evidence of fraud.
One week after Mr Lula was sworn in in January, crowds of Mr Bolsonaro’s followers stormed and ransacked buildings of Brazilian power in an attempt to get the military to take control of the government.
Still, Mr Bolsonaro did allow a shift in power and, during the first few months of Mr Lula’s presidency, receded into the background of Brazilian politics by moving temporarily to Florida. Mr Bolsonaro is now back in Brazil and making more public appearances.
His lawyers argued that his address to diplomats, at the center of the case, was an “act of the government” aimed at raising legitimate concerns about election security. They have noted that diplomats cannot vote and argued the speech did not interfere with the election process.
Neither Bolsonaro’s lawyers nor his spokesman responded to requests for comment.
What’s Next: Bolsonaro faces trial — and more investigations
After starting on June 22, Bolsonaro’s trial is likely to continue at another court session scheduled for June 27 and 29. The seven judges on an election court panel, consisting of Supreme Court justices, federal judges and attorneys, can decide cases quickly, with a simple majority needed to convict. The election court is slated for a month-long recess in July.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Bolsonaro faces 15 other cases in the election court, including those involving accusations that he improperly used public funds to influence the vote and that his campaign was running a coordinated misinformation campaign against Lula. Confidence could also in any case deem him ineligible to serve eight years.
Mr Bolsonaro is also the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the January 8 invasion of Brazilian government buildings. A Brazilian prosecutor accused him of encouraging a crowd. Conviction in this case can lead to prison terms. As part of the case, Bolsonaro testified in April before federal police.
Leticia Married reporting contribution from Brasilia.