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End of the road for Brazil's Bolsonaro as military refuses to back election fraud claims

The electoral court's rejection of Bolsonaro's challenge to the presidential election smoothens the path for Lula to take over as the new President of Brazil on January 1, 2023.

November 25, 2022 / 11:58 AM IST
REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto - RC1BDA346380

REUTERS/Leonardo Benassatto - RC1BDA346380

The Brazilian military’s refusal to support Jair Bolsonaro seems to have scuppered the country’s extremist president’s plans to stay on to power by questioning the results of the October presidential election that he narrowly lost to his leftist rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro’s hopes were further dashed when the head of Brazil's electoral court, Alexandre de Moraes, on Wednesday rejected his challenge to the presidential election and fined the parties in his coalition $4.27 million for "bad faith litigation".

Bolsonaro had lost the October 30 runoff election to Lula by the narrowest margin—50.9 percent of the vote versus 49.1 percent votes.

Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) had filed a complaint to challenge the outcome of the election claiming some of the electronic voting machines were flawed and those votes should be invalidated.

But Moraes described the challenge as “offensive” to democratic norms and felt it sought to encourage criminal and anti-democratic movements.

The court also ordered that all political funds for the president’s coalition parties be blocked until the fine is paid.

It also asked for an investigation into any misuse of the party’s structure and funds by the head of the PL party, Valdemar da Costa Neto.

The court’s decision smoothens the path for Lula, a two-time former president, to take over as the new President of Brazil on January 1, 2023.

No military support

But it was Brazil's military decision not to back Bolsonaro, a former army captain, that seemed to turn the tide in Lula’s favour.

The Brazilian President’s supporters had blocked highways and roads across the country in protest at Bolsonaro’s defeat since the results of the presidential election were out in October.

But the Defence Ministry’s refusal to support Bolsonaro’s charge that the recent ballot was fraudulent derailed the president’s plan to delegitimise the election.

In a 63-page report that the military sent to Brazil’s electoral authorities, there was nothing to suggest that the election was tainted.

The President’s supporters had hoped the military would back his claims and had been sitting in front of barracks asking the army to take over.

The Brazilian military ruled the country for 21 years from 1964 to 1985 with the support of the US.

But that was in the Cold War period and the Brazilian army would hardly find any support from the US if it supported either Bolsonaro’s claim or decided to take over power.

Trump admirer

Bolsonaro has been a great admirer of former US President Donald Trump.

His decision to challenge the presidential election results may have been influenced by his American idol, who had also termed the 2020 US presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden, as fraudulent.

But his claims were rejected by the US courts but also from within the ranks of his Republican Party.

Bolsonaro had also been raising doubts about the reliability of the electronic ballot boxes.

Brazil has been using electronic voting since 1996 and there were never any complaints about their malfunctioning or being used to commit fraud.

The electoral officials said they received with satisfaction the report from the Defence Ministry that expressed the same view as all the other monitoring agencies.

It said the ministry’s report did not point to “any fraud or inconsistency” in the electronic ballot boxes or the 2022 electoral process.

Supporters protest

The Bolsonaro’s supporters, however, cried fraud and continued their protest by blocking highways and burning tyres and parked vehicles on the motorway.

They had also managed to get several lorries to form a barricade along the highway near the Sao Paulo airport—one of the busiest airports in the region.

The blockade was finally cleared after the Supreme Court asked the federal highway police (PRF) to take “immediate measures” to clear the obstructions from the roads.

In addition, the court threatened owners of lorries that were being used as barricades, that they would be fined 100,000 reais ($17,000) for every hour they remained part of the blockade.

Finally, the law-enforcing authorities, who had earlier been empathising with the protesters, were forced to use pepper gas to clear the highways of Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Reports suggest that officials had broken up 314 protests by Tuesday morning. But there are indications that roads were still closed in at least 21 states.

Challenges before Lula

Lula, a former union leader and two-time president between 2003 and 2011, claimed he will govern for all Brazilians. When he became president, Lula had used the windfall from the commodities boom to pull out millions of citizens from poverty.

His ability to build consensus among world leaders had also turned him into a respected international statesman. Lula had also managed to help Brazil secure the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

But Brazil’s economy is now estimated to decline from its current 2.7 percent growth to around one percent.

Therefore, when Lula takes over as Brazil's President in 2023 he will have to take urgent steps to put the economy on track and ensure it grows faster than what has been predicted by most experts.

However, his main challenge will come in putting together a sharply polarised nation, especially those who continue to believe that the presidential election was stolen from them.
Pranay Sharma