By Eduardo Davis
Brasilia, Jun 22 (EFE).- The trial of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro for alleged abuse of power and dissemination of false information about Brazil’s voting system in the lead-up to last year’s presidential election began here Thursday before the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).
The 68-year-old rightist leader is accused of abusing his position as head of state to carry out a smear campaign against the TSE and Brazil’s electoral system and undermine trust in the country’s institutions.
Bolsonaro, who fell short in his re-election bid in a closely contested Oct. 30 runoff loss to left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, would not face any criminal penalties if found guilty by a panel of judges but would be barred from seeking office again for eight years.
A focal point of the charges is a meeting Bolsonaro organized at the presidential residence in Brasilia on July 18, 2022, with dozens of foreign ambassadors.
In his speech to those diplomats, an address he ordered to be broadcast live on public television, he railed against his country’s electoral system and took particular aim at its electronic voting machines, which he said were susceptible to being hacked.
The TSE has scheduled three hearings for the case, with a ruling expected to be handed down next week.
During Thursday’s initial hearing, an attorney for the leftist Democratic Labor Party (PDT) that filed the case, Walber Agra, said Bolsonaro, a professed admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, should be found guilty of “coup-mongering practices.”
He said the ex-president had “systematically attacked” the TSE and Brazilian democracy itself and engaged in a series of actions that constituted abuse of office.
Agra cited draft decrees proposing that the 2022 presidential election results be annulled following Lula’s victory and even that a “military intervention ” be carried out to keep Bolsonaro in power.
He said the meeting with the ambassadors was just the “start of a plan” aimed at garnering foreign support in the event of a coup, adding that this action undermined the authority of the Supreme Electoral Court “without offering a single piece of evidence.”
Bolsonaro’s attorney, Tarcisio Vieira, said for his part at Thursday’s hearing that his client merely expressed during that event “his opinions about the Brazilian electoral system.”
Vieira said Bolsonaro conveyed his “doubts” about the electronic voting machines – used in Brazil since 1996 without any accusations of fraud – in the “full exercise” of his right to freedom of expression.
The attorney said that if Bolsonaro was guilty of electioneering prior to the start of the campaign season or of making improper use of public buildings and state media outlets to promote his candidacy he should be fined but not stripped of his political rights.
But a prosecutor with Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office, Paulo Gonet Branco, told the court at Thursday’s hearing that the meeting with the ambassadors had been convened for the purpose of exposing the international community and all of Brazilian society to “baseless allegations” and a “manipulation that could corrode the electoral contest.”
The severity of those actions, he added, was evidenced by the movement that took to the streets in the wake of Lula’s victory to demand the armed forces carry out a military coup to prevent the leftist president-elect from taking office.
That threat, according to Agra, intensified further when a mob of Bolsonaro supporters on Jan. 8 of this year – just over a week after Lula’s inauguration – invaded and vandalized the National Congress building, the Supreme Federal Court and the Planalto presidential palace in a bid to violently oust the country’s democratically elected leader.
Bolsonaro was taking part in different political activities in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Thursday and did not participate in the initial hearing in the case.
Brazil’s next presidential election is scheduled for October 2026. EFE