Leading Brazilian politicians lined up on Thursday to stress next year’s presidential election is certain to take place, after a bombshell newspaper story that Brazil’s defense minister had issued a threat about holding the highly polarised vote.
Estado de S. Paulo, citing anonymous sources, reported that Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto, a former army general, had told House Speaker Arthur Lira via an interlocutor that the 2022 election would not take place unless printed ballots were used. Reuters was unable to independently verify the story.
Both Lira and Braga Netto denied the report, which roiled Brazil’s political class.
It comes amid repeated public – and unfounded – allegations by President Jair Bolsonaro that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud. With his popularity falling after overseeing the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak, Bolsonaro is pushing to replace the system with printed ballots, but the bill has not gained much traction in Congress.
Critics allege that Bolsonaro, like his idol, former US President Donald Trump, is sowing election doubts to pave the way for him not to accept any loss. Opinion polls show he trails former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, although neither of them has officially announced their candidacy yet.
In the wake of the Estado de S. Paulo story, Lira wrote in a tweet that Brazilians will vote next year in a “secret and sovereign” election. His Senate counterpart Rodrigo Pacheco also assured Brazilians that the 2022 election will take place, either with printed or electronic ballots.
Brazil’s vice president, former army general Hamilton Mourao, also said it was “logical” that next year’s vote would take place.
Braga Netto, speaking at an event in Brasilia, said the armed forces were committed to democracy and freedom.
In a statement released by the Defense Ministry on Thursday, Braga Netto said “the discussion about auditable electronic voting through printed proof is legitimate,” adding that he believed “all citizens desire the utmost transparency and legitimacy” in the electoral process.
Luis Roberto Barroso, the head of Brazil’s federal election court, said he had spoken with Braga Netto and Lira, who had both “emphatically” denied the newspaper report.
Writing on Twitter, Joao Caminoto, director of news for the media group that runs Estado de S. Paulo, defended the paper’s reporting. “I consider it important to reaffirm in full the contents of the published report,” he wrote.
Bolsonaro has said he may not accept the result of an election using electronic voting in 2022.
Earlier this month Bolsonaro said:
The Estado de S. Paulo story resonated in Brazil, where a coup in 1964 led to 21 years of military rule.
“In a democracy, it is not the military who decides if there will or will not be an election but the constitution which they have sworn to defend and obey,” said lawmaker Marcelo Ramos, vice-president of the lower house, in a note.
Brazil’s electoral court has repeatedly denied that the system is vulnerable to fraud or that there is evidence of fraud in previous elections, and Bolsonaro has yet to provide proof to back up his claims.