President Jair Bolsonaro is trailing far behind in the early polls for the 2022 presidential election, and his reaction to this dwindling popularity has been to challenge the entire voting system itself.
Mr. Bolsonaro is taking a leaf from the Donald Trump playbook. The former U.S. president justified losing re-election to Joe Biden by claiming that mail-in ballots were defrauded. Going one better, Mr. Bolsonaro is alleging that Brazil’s 100-percent electronic voting system is rigged.
On August 1, thousands of his supporters took to the streets in Brazil’s main urban centers to demand the return of paper ballots in the country, which they say would allow for “transparent and fraud-free elections.” Ironically, however, Brazil’s history of electoral fraud came precisely when the country held analog votes. Since adopting electronic ballot boxes, no such complaints have surfaced.
But Mr. Bolsonaro’s aim is not to question the actual integrity of the voting system. The president and his acolytes seek to challenge the very legitimacy of Brazil’s democratic institutions — and Mr. Bolsonaro is giving numerous signs that he might be willing to barricade himself in the presidency should he lose next year’s election.
More worrisome than a would-be putschist president is the ambiguous role of Brazil’s Armed Forces, which have failed to unequivocally support democracy and electoral results regardless of the victor. One recent report states that Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto — one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s most loyal allies — threatened Congress with a military coup should lawmakers refuse to indulge the president’s wishes and reinstate printed ballots.
“The president’s push for the return of paper ballots as an audit tool for electronic votes is nothing but a red herring,” said political analyst Filipe Campante, speaking to our Explaining Brazil podcast. “Give him that and he will come up with another reason to challenge the results.”
The Bolsonaro family showed support for the January 6 U.S. Capitol riots. The president’s congressman son Eduardo Bolsonaro declared in March that “when the right is 10 percent [as organized as] the left, we will have civil wars in every Western country.”