Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, is due to go on trial this month on charges of abusing his power as president to carry out baseless attacks against Brazil’s electoral systems. If convicted, he would be ineligible to run for eight years.
A seven-judge panel from Brazil’s electoral court will decide the case, which is due to begin on June 22. The court aims to make a decision this month, although the case could be delayed if any judges request more time.
A rival political party accused Bolsonaro of abusing the presidency when, less than three months before last year’s Brazilian elections, he summoned foreign diplomats to a meeting, made false claims about the country’s voting systems and broadcast observations on state television.
Brazil’s top prosecutor for election cases has recommended preventing Bolsonaro from running because his speech to diplomats was intended to undermine public confidence in the Brazilian election. The only punishment prosecutors are asking for is making Bolsonaro ineligible to run, which is the typical abuse of power punishment in such cases.
« As a head of state making public criticism, it can only be understood as a warning to Brazilians and the world that the election results cannot be seen as reliable and legitimate, » said the prosecutor, Paulo Gonet Branco, in a legal filing. which is sealed but has been seen 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 hugely popular and influential figure among conservatives in Brazil and is seen as a likely challenger to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a man of the left, in 2026. Bolsonaro received 49.1% of the vote in 2022, just 2.1 million votes short of 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 consider a similar strategy.
Bolsonaro’s rhetoric resembled that of former President Donald J. Trump, a political ally. But the results for the two men could turn out to be very different. Just six months after leaving office, Bolsonaro is facing allegations that could end his political career. At the same time, while Mr. Trump faces investigations into his efforts to question the 2020 US election, he is still the leading contender to become the Republican Party’s candidate in next year’s presidential vote.
Background: Bolsonaro has long attacked the Brazilian elections.
Bolsonaro has spent years criticizing Brazil’s voting systems, arguing that they were vulnerable to fraud and that his rivals were bent on rigging them, despite a lack of evidence. His comment has led millions of his followers to lose faith in electoral systems and to believe that Lula stole the 2022 election.
Despite Bolsonaro’s claims, numerous reviews of election results have found no credible evidence of fraud.
A week after Lula took office in January, many of Bolsonaro’s followers invaded and ransacked Brazil’s halls of power in an attempt to get the military to take over the government.
However, Bolsonaro authorized the handover of power and, for the first few months of Lula’s presidency, withdrew against the backdrop of Brazilian politics and temporarily moved to Florida. Mr Bolsonaro has now returned to Brazil and made more public appearances.
His lawyers have argued that his speech to diplomats, which is at the heart of this case, was an « act of government » aimed at raising legitimate concerns about election security. They noted that diplomats cannot vote and argued that the speech did not interfere with the electoral process.
Neither Bolsonaro’s lawyer nor his spokesman responded to requests for comment.
What happens next: Bolsonaro faces trial and many more investigations
After the start of June 22, Bolsonaro’s trial will likely continue in other court sessions scheduled for June 27 and 29. The seven-judge electoral college — made up of Supreme Court justices, federal judges and attorneys — could decide the case quickly, with a simple majority needed to convict. The electoral tribunal is expected to end a one-month suspension in July.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Bolsonaro faces 15 more cases in election tribunal, including those involving allegations that he misused public funds to influence the vote and that his campaign ran a coordinated disinformation campaign against Lula. A conviction in either case could also declare him ineligible for eight years.
Mr. Bolsonaro is also the subject of a federal criminal investigation into the January 8 invasion of Brazil’s government buildings. A senior Brazilian prosecutor accused him of encouraging the mafia. A conviction in the case could lead to jail time. As part of the case, Bolsonaro testified in April before the federal police.
Letizia married contributed to reporting from Brasilia.