A panel of judges voted on Friday to make far-right former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro ineligible to run for office again after concluding he abused his power and cast unfounded doubt on the country’s electronic voting system.
The decision bars Bolsonaro from running until 2030, upending the 68-year-old’s political future and likely eliminating any chance of him regaining power.
Five judges from the country’s highest electoral court agreed that Bolsonaro abused his authority by using government communication channels to promote his campaign and cast doubt on the vote. Two judges voted against.
“This decision will end Bolsonaro’s chances of being president again, and he knows it,” said Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Sao Paulo’s Insper University. “After this, he’ll try to stay out of jail, he’ll pick some of his allies to keep his political capital, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever return to the presidency.”
The case centered on a July 18, 2022 meeting in which Bolsonaro used government employees, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasilia to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system was rigged. .
In her decisive majority vote, Judge Carmen Lucía – who is also a Supreme Court magistrate – said that “the facts are incontrovertible.”
“The meeting did take place. It was called by the then president. Its content is available. It was examined by everyone, and there was never a denial that it happened,” he said.
Alexandre de Moraes, also a Supreme Court justice, said the decision represents a rejection of “populism reborn from the flames of hateful and undemocratic speech that promotes egregious misinformation.”
Speaking to reporters in Minas Gerais, Bolsonaro regretted that the trial was unfair and vowed to appeal the court’s decision, according to the G1 online news site.
Political science professor Mr. Melo said it is “highly unlikely” that the decision will be overturned. He removes Bolsonaro from the 2024 and 2028 municipal elections, as well as the 2026 general elections. The former president also faces other legal problems, including criminal investigations. Future criminal convictions could extend his ban by years and put him in prison.
Former President Fernando Collor de Mello and current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been found ineligible in the past, but Bolsonaro’s case marks the first time a president has been suspended for electoral violations rather than a criminal offense. Brazilian law prohibits candidates with criminal convictions from running for office.
Lula’s eligibility was reinstated by Brazil’s highest court after rulings that then-judge and now senator Sergio Moro was biased when he sentenced the leftist leader to nearly 10 years in prison for corruption and money laundering.
Maria Maris, an engineer from Rio de Janeiro, welcomed the ruling, although she said she suspects it may have been politically motivated.
“My fear is that Bolsonaro will appeal and run in the next presidential election, even though he was ineligible today,” Maris said.
Bolsonaro has a ceremonial leadership role within his Liberal Party and has traveled Brazil criticizing Lula, who won last October’s election by the narrowest margin in more than three decades.
Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings on January 8, a week after Lula took office, in a bid to oust the leftist from power. The rapid imprisonment and prosecution of hundreds of those who participated had a chilling effect on their rejection of the election results. Federal police are investigating Bolsonaro’s role in inciting the uprising; He denied doing anything wrong.
The president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said on her social media channels that Bolsonaro’s ineligibility offers a teachable moment.
“The extreme right needs to know that the political fight is carried out within the democratic process, and not with violence and threats of a coup,” he said. Bolsonaro “will be left out of the game because he does not respect the rules. Not only him, his entire gang of coup plotters has to follow the same path.
The trial has reinvigorated the online base of Bolsonaro, whose supporters say he is the victim of an unfair judicial system and compare his fate to that of former US President Donald Trump, according to Marie Santini, coordinator of NetLab, a research group at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro that monitors social networks.
However, that commitment pales in comparison to the levels seen before last year’s polarizing elections.
The expression of Katia Caminha, a retiree from the Copacabana neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, fell when she heard the news that the majority of the judges had voted against Bolsonaro. She told The Associated Press that she thought the entire trial was a “clown show.”
“Everything that has to do with the electoral court is biased and against” Mr. Bolsonaro. “This is terrible news for Brazil,” Caminha said.
His supporters this week showed their continued support with contributions to help him pay off 1.1 million reais (about $230,000) in fines imposed by the Sao Paulo state government for Bolsonaro’s repeated violations of health protocols. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Bolsonaro aspires to be the king of the right, and his endorsement will carry significant weight, his decision to move to Florida for several months at the start of Lula’s term undermined him, said Thomas Traumann, a political analyst. That is reflected in limited outrage from the right on social media during the eligibility trial, and no sign of protest.
“There will not be a mass movement, because it has diminished in size. The fact that he went to Florida and didn’t lead the opposition made him downsize,” Traumann said. “The opposition leader is clearly not Bolsonaro.”
As the trial drew to a close, a trumpeter outside the electoral court played the song that became a sensation during last year’s presidential race: “It is Time for Jair to Go Away.”
This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer Diane Jeantet reported from Rio. Carla Bridi also contributed to this report.