Bolsonaro Insists on Fraud Claims as Voting Revamp Rejected
(Bloomberg) -- President Jair Bolsonaro insisted that the outcome of next year’s elections won’t be credible after lawmakers turned down his proposal to add paper ballots to Brazil’s electronic voting system, escalating political tensions 14 months ahead of the presidential vote.
A bill requiring a printout of each ballot electronically cast was shelved late on Tuesday after being backed by 229 of 513 lower house representatives, short of the 308 needed to amend the constitution.
“We’re signaling an election in which we won’t trust the vote counting,” the far-right president told supporters in front of the official residence on Wednesday. He added he was glad to see nearly half of lawmakers supported the proposed change. “I’m sure that we’ll increasingly have more people on our side.”
Undeterred, Bolsonaro’s allies are trying to convince senators to take up comparable legislation, but senate head Rodrigo Pacheco seems to have closed that door as well.
“The lower house’s decision settles this matter and the senate doesn’t have to vote on any bill on the same topic,” he said later on Wednesday.
Yet the discussion is unlikely to die any time soon, according to Creomar de Souza, chief executive officer at Dharma Political Risk, a Brasilia-based consultancy.
“The bill didn’t pass, but it wasn’t such a big defeat,” Souza said. “That gives the president and his allies the possibility to maintain their narrative.”
Alarm bells are ringing in Brasilia after the former army captain suggested that, without paper receipts that could be manually counted, he may not accept the outcome of the election or perhaps not even hold it next year, as mandated by the constitution. An unusual parade of military tanks rolling through the streets of the capital added to the sense of unease, with many politicians describing it as an attempt by the president to intimidate them.
The parade was organized by the navy to invite Bolsonaro and his defense minister to participate in a traditional military exercise that takes place next week. It was the first time, however, that the invitation was delivered with a display of military power in Brasilia. The navy said in a statement it had long planned the event and that it had no relation with votes being carried out in congress.
Yet the event angered lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum. “It’s a pathetic scene, an attack on democracy,” said Senator Omar Aziz, who presides over the congressional committee investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Even lower house Speaker Arthur Lira, a key ally of Bolsonaro, disapproved. In a polarized country such as Brazil, he said, the incident creates speculation that congress may be under some sort of pressure.
Brazil’s electronic ballots shifted into the spotlight in recent weeks as Bolsonaro, facing a sharp drop in popularity amid a vaccine-purchasing scandal, launched a relentless attack on their credibility. He has repeatedly claimed, without presenting proof, that the system that has been in use in the country for the past two decades -- and through which he was elected -- is vulnerable to cheating and hacking.
In a report released Tuesday, the Brazilian Audit Court said that there are already several safety mechanisms in the current system that allow the voting process and the tallying of the ballots to be audited.
Following in the footsteps of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has been sowing doubt about the integrity of both the country’s voting system and the electoral authority. The strategy has stirred fears that he may be laying the groundwork to challenge the result of next year’s election, should he lose.
His rhetoric has pushed the country to the brink of an institutional crisis. Last week the Supreme Court’s chief justice canceled plans for a meeting with Bolsonaro and the heads of congress, saying the president seeks to “complicate, frustrate or impede the electoral process.”
Bolsonaro’s focus on the paper-vote issue has also deflected attention from his administration’s erratic handling of the pandemic. An ongoing senate inquiry is probing allegations of a kickback scheme in the government’s purchase of vaccines, which the president has denied having any knowledge of.
In a separate vote, the senate on Tuesday revoked a national security law created during the military dictatorship and that had been recently evoked to censor critics of government institutions, most of them against Bolsonaro.
“We must recognize the results when they are favorable and when they are contrary -- that’s from democracy,” Lira said after the bill was defeated in the lower house. “It would be best if President Bolsonaro looked at it that way.”
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