Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was sentenced on Friday June 30 to eight years of ineligibility “abuse of political power and improper use of the media”for criticizing the reliability of electronic ballot boxes without evidence, a few months before the election won by his left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The sentence of the seven magistrates of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) of Brasilia, decided with five votes against two, deprives Bolsonaro, 68, of his presidential candidacy in 2026 and opens the battle for his succession within the right and the extreme right . His defense, however, has indicated that he will appeal.
The court had warned before the election that it “would not condone criminal extremism” neither “Fraudulent information, disinformation, with the intent to mislead voters”, launched the president of the TSE, Alexandre de Moraes. Bolsonaro’s defense, once again absent at the hearing, had announced that he would appeal to the Supreme Court in the event of a conviction. “I have committed no crime by talking to ambassadors. Taking away my political rights on charges of abuse of political power is incomprehensible”the 68-year-old former army captain had launched to the press on Thursday.
It is a speech delivered in July 2022 in front of diplomats in the presidential residence of Alvorada, and broadcast on public TV and social networks, which is at the heart of the process. Mr. Bolsonaro had said he wanted “fix the flaws” in electronic vote with the “armed forces participation”. This discourse on an alleged vulnerability, prone to fraud, of the electoral system, this nostalgic of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) must have hammered it during his electoral campaign.
“Delirious narrative with damaging effects for democracy”
It had fueled the wrath of his most radical supporters, who on January 8, a few days after Lula took office, stormed and looted the seats of the executive, legislative and judicial powers in Brasilia. “Democracy has won its toughest test in decades”, the Minister of Justice, Flavio Dino, reacted on Friday after the court’s decision. The TSE judges who voted to convict sharply criticized the former president’s conduct.
The latter’s speech sounded like a “delusional fiction with effects harmful to democracy” and it was not an isolated act, but a choice “strategically forged over time, for electoral purposes”, judge André Ramos Tavares thundered on Thursday. Conversely, for his colleague Raul Araujo, the behavior of the former president “was not such as to warrant an extreme measure of ineligibility”.
The question of the leadership of the Bolsonaro camp already arises. No figures are needed for the moment as a remedy, but Bolsonarismo is more rooted than ever. Right-wing and far-right parties are even stronger in parliament than they were under Jair Bolsonaro. The latter also narrowly lost, with only a 1.8% difference in the second round against Lula, who returned after two legislatures (2003, 2010).
Mr. Bolsonaro has other legal processes ahead of him. In addition to fifteen proceedings before the Electoral Court, the former leader is being targeted by the Supreme Court in five cases, in particular for his alleged role as the instigator of the January 8 attacks. He risks prison.