One day after Brazil’s President Bolsonaro assures US President Biden he won’t tamper with electoral system, Defense Minister Gen. Paulo Oliveira attacks electoral courts for refusing to let military tamper with elections.
by Brian Mier
On June 10th, the day after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s historic first ever meeting with US President Joe Biden at the Summit of the Americas, his government has resumed it’s ongoing attempt to preemptively undermine this year’s Presidential elections, in a scenario in which the incumbent is trailing opposition leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by 21 points in the polls.
Last month, Superior Electoral Court Justice Edson Fachin wrote a response to an official complaint casting doubt on the electoral system written by Army General and Defense Minister Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira. In it, he emphasized that while the 7 suggestions in the complaint are welcome, some of them – for example, guaranteeing that a team of cyber security specialists monitor the elections – refer to mechanisms that are already in place, and all of them are based on faulty premises. Furthermore, Fachin wrote, although the military has the right to express its opinions, the Court has the final word on any changes to the electoral system.
On Friday, Defense Minister Oliveira released a 29-point statement reiterating his demands, repudiating Fachin’s response and making a machista threat that the Court is not respecting the “prestige” of the armed forces. Fachin immediately answered, emphasizing that according to Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, it is illegal to change the voting system this close to a presidential election.
Brazilian journalist Denise Assis compares the letter from the Defense Minister to throwing gasoline on a burning coal within a context of ongoing, Trump-like statements by Jair Bolsonaro and members of his government designed to undermine this year’s presidential elections, with the apparent aim of normalizing a possible January 6–style riot and ensuing anti-democratic clampdown reminiscent of the dictatorship era so beloved by the far-right President.
One example is the threatening message to Congress delivered by Oliveira’s predecessor in the Defense Ministry, General Walter Braga Neto in June, 2021, warning that elections would not take place unless Brazil switched back to a paper ballot system, which drew shocked reactions from lawmakers across the political spectrum.
On May 5 of this year, Reuters ran a story claiming that during a July, 2021 meeting between CIA director William Burns and top officials of the Bolsonaro administration, he had asked them to stop trying to undermine this year’s presidential elections. General Augusto Heleno, who was at the meeting, immediately denied that this had happened.
Last month, a group of 80 legal experts delivered a petition to the United Nations warning that the Bolsonaro government was trying to undermine Brazil’s democratic election system. “The courts face an unprecedented campaign of distrust and public threats to judges who decide against the government’s agenda,“ they wrote. “[…]without any evidence, Bolsonaro publicly claims that the Brazilian electoral system can be and has been rigged, and has even claimed that the Superior Electoral Court judges are behind such alleged frauds.”
Coming on the heels of Bolsonaro’s first ever one on one meeting with US President Biden at the Summit of the Americas, which he claims to have wildly exceeded his expectations, the timing of the Minister Oliveira’s letter seems, despite speculaton in US media that Biden may have warned Bolsonaro not to tamper with the electoral process, to deliberately frame the situation as if the Biden administration has given them a green light to continue.