Candidates Trash Election Results Before Brazil Even Votes

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s wildly unpredictable presidential election is becoming even more uncertain as some of the candidates threaten to reject the result.

Both the left and right of Brazil’s political spectrum are already questioning the legitimacy of October’s vote. While the Workers’ Party insists that any election without the jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would be a fraud, ex-Army captain Jair Bolsonaro has questioned the reliability of the country’s electronic voting system.

Candidates Trash Election Results Before Brazil Even Votes

Lula and Bolsonaro are the top two-placed candidates in the election campaign, according to the latest opinion polls, meaning that the validity of the result is not just a fringe issue. President Michel Temer, who rose to power following the impeachment of his predecessor, faced questions over his democratic legitimacy throughout his tenure, undermining his policy agenda. If the next president fails to secure an uncontested mandate, he or she may struggle to secure congressional support to deal with the country’s most pressing issues.

"The winner will face difficulty ensuring governability," said Ariane Roder, a political scientist at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University’s business school. "Bringing calm to society will be the challenge."

Operation Carwash, the massive, long-running corruption scandal, has exposed the weakness of state institutions, Roder argues, providing fodder for some of Bolsonaro’s supporters to question whether the electoral process itself has been corrupted. Those on the left, meanwhile, believe that Lula’s imprisonment was designed to pull him out of politics and highlights the politicization of the judiciary.

The ex-president is currently serving a twelve-year prison sentence following his conviction for corruption and money-laundering. Nevertheless he remains the Workers’ Party candidate despite the fact he is highly likely to be barred from standing.

Candidates Trash Election Results Before Brazil Even Votes

"Free Lula" has become a rallying call for many on the Brazilian left. The social media accounts of many in the Workers’ Party leadership proclaim that "An election without Lula is a fraud" - a slogan echoed in the graffiti daubed across the walls of many Brazilian cities.

Electronic Vote

Meanwhile, on the right, Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly argued that Brazil’s electronic ballots are suspect and that only a printout of each vote would safeguard democracy. In an interview with TV Cultura’s Roda Viva program on 30 July, the candidate said that October’s vote was "under suspicion" due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down an electoral reform law that called for a printed copy of the vote.

The issue is close to his heart. Congress has passed few of the dozens of bills authored by Bolsonaro during his 26 years in the lower house: one of those approved was a demand that voting machines issue printouts.

In 2002 Brazil pioneered electronic voting machines exclusively for general elections, with Lula winning the presidency. India and Venezuela followed in 2004. Electronic voting is also used partially by some countries, such as the U.S., France and Japan.

The current voting system is more secure and cheaper than a print-out, according to Rodrigo Coimbra, head of the Computerized Voting Section of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court. Political parties skeptical of the process are also entitled to audit the software used, he said in an interview.

While the technical issue of electronic voting is not a first order concern for Bolsonaro’s supporters, they are deeply skeptical that the Brazilian establishment will let him win, according to Esther Solano, a doctor of sociology at the Federal University of Sao Paulo who has carried out extensive field research with the ex-Army captain’s voters.

"They say that if Brazilian politics were democratic then he would win the election because he is so popular," she said. "But because it’s not democratic, he is not going to win because the press and the electoral system won’t let him."

But speaking to Bloomberg last week, Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, also a federal congressman, went further. He said that their campaign’s mistrust in the voting system is so strong that they are unable to say at this stage whether they would accept the result.

"That’s a very hard question," he said. "We can only answer that after the election."

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