Brazil’s far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro vowed Friday to appeal a court ruling to bar him from public office for eight years over unfounded attacks he had made against the country’s voting system.
Prosecutors blamed Bolsonaro’s statements for a violent invasion of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in January by supporters angry about his electoral loss to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The former president told journalists the 5-2 Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) decision was a “stab in the back,” adding he would appeal to the Supreme Court.
“I’m not dead, we’re going to keep working,” Bolsonaro told journalists in Belo Horizonte in Brazil’s southeast.
In a verdict that stretched over several days, five of the seven judges of the TSE in Brasilia voted to censure Bolsonaro for alleged abuses of power. Two found in his favor.
The tribunal tried Bolsonaro, 68, over a televised meeting he held with foreign diplomats in July 2022, three months before his election defeat to Lula.
Bolsonaro spent nearly an hour making his argument to the assembled ambassadors, but presented no hard evidence to back his claims that electronic voting machines in use since 1996 compromised election transparency.
The TSE ruling means Bolsonaro will be ineligible to stand in the presidential election in 2026, opening the contest for a new leader for Brazil’s political right.
“This is not the end of the right in Brazil,” Bolsonaro insisted Friday.
– ‘Collective paranoia’ –
The lead judge on the case, Benedito Goncalves, ruled Tuesday to convict Bolsonaro, saying he had used “violent speech and lies” that “endangered the credibility” of Brazil’s electoral system.
Goncalves said the 2022 meeting “served to incite a state of collective paranoia” about elections at a time Brazil was deeply polarized.
“He instigated a belief that there was a real threat that the results of the 2022 election would be adulterated,” said the judge. “It was extremely harmful to the democratic environment.”
On Thursday, judge Floriano Marques also voted for conviction, saying Bolsonaro had acted with “electoral objectives” to “intentionally convey the idea that Brazilian elections are not clean.”
Thousands of Bolsonaro’s far-right supporters stormed the halls of power in Brasilia on January 8, trashing offices, vandalizing artworks and calling for the military to intervene to oust veteran leftist Lula — inaugurated just a week earlier.
The scenes drew widespread comparisons to the January 6, 2021 riots in Washington, when supporters of ex-president Donald Trump — Bolsonaro’s political role model — invaded the US Capitol building in a failed bid to overturn his election loss.
Nearly half the electorate voted for Bolsonaro in a runoff round of elections last October, but it was not enough for a win.
– Tropical Trump –
Nicknamed the “Tropical Trump,” Bolsonaro’s presidency was tumultuous: at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that claimed more than 700,000 lives in Brazil, he mocked face masks, social distancing and vaccines, warning the jab could “turn you into an alligator.”
He also faced an international outcry over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which surged on his watch.
Bolsonaro spent three months in the United States after his term ended, and has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since returning to Brazil in March to serve as honorary president of his Liberal Party.
He faces a raft of other legal woes. Any one of five Supreme Court investigations could send him to jail — including for allegedly inciting the Brasilia riots.
The police are also investigating claims of a fake Covid-19 vaccination certificate and of diamond jewelry snuck into the country from Saudi Arabia.
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