Jair Messias Bolsonaro, 67, the outgoing president of Brazil who has been cloistered inside his residence since he narrowly lost the presidential election last month, has decided to challenge the results. On Tuesday he filed a petition with Brazil election authorities to have some votes annulled, on the basis that they were cast in old voting machines that malfunctioned.
Bolsonaro was defeated at a runoff vote on October 30 by just 1.8 points, securing about two million fewer ballots than his opponent, the leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 77. It was the closest race in Brazilian history, and it denied the far-right president a chance at a second term.
Observers believed he would cooperate with the transfer of power after he addressed the media 48 hours later and said that “as president and as a citizen, I will continue to follow all the commandments of our Constitution,” stopping short however of conceding defeat.
But on Tuesday, Bolsonaro filed a challenge with the Superior Electoral Tribunal, asking this body to annul votes that were cast in the oldest models of the electronic ballot boxes that Brazil has been using for 25 years. The president and his Liberal Party argue that there were “indications of irreparable malfunction” detected by an audit commissioned by the president’s team, Reuters reported.
In 2014, after the leftist Dilma Rouseff won a narrow victory over Aecio Neves, the latter challenged the result without success.
Since he lost the elections, Bolsonaro has barely made any public appearances. His absence, his silence and his refusal to explicitly acknowledge Lula’s victory have emboldened his most radical supporters. During these last three weeks, his staunchest followers have held rallies in front of barracks throughout the country, calling on the military to rise up and prevent Lula’s inauguration, scheduled for January 1. The protests, which initially attracted tens of thousands of people, have been losing steam, but persist in several cities. The challenge presented on Tuesday by Bolsonaro could give renewed vigor to these groups that continue to mobilize in the streets.
Bolsonaro’s move culminates a long campaign in which he has questioned the current voting system and sown doubts about it, without ever offering conclusive evidence. No case of fraud has been detected in Brazil in the last quarter-century. Yet some of his followers remain convinced that the elections have been stolen from them, evidencing an erosion of trust in the national electronic ballot box system, of which Brazilians had been so proud until recently.
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