Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has condemned a new investigation into his unsubstantiated claims that the country’s electronic voting system is marred by fraud, saying he refuses to be “intimidated”.
Electoral authorities on Monday ordered a probe into Bolsonaro’s campaign to have paper receipts printed after electronic ballots are cast in next year’s presidential election, a push he has justified by saying – without evidence – that the system is riddled with fraud.
The far-right leader, who has seen a recent loss of popularity amid Brazil’s coronavirus crisis and a string of government corruption allegations, has said there will be no elections in 2022 if the system is not overhauled.
Thousands of his supporters protested in cities across the country during the weekend in support of Bolsonaro’s demand, though Brazilian judges and other experts have rejected the fraud allegations as baseless.
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court said on Monday it would investigate the president for abuse of office, improper use of official communication channels, corruption, fraud and other potential crimes in his attacks on electronic voting.
“I refuse to be intimidated,” Bolsonaro responded on Tuesday.
“I’m going to continue exercising my right to freedom of expression, to criticise, to listen to and above all answer to the will of the people,” he told supporters outside the presidential palace. “I swore to give my life for the nation in case of foreign or domestic attack. Brazil is under internal attack.”
But critics have said Bolsonaro is seeking to sow doubt in advance of next year’s vote, during which he is expected to face a serious challenge from former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
They have said the Brazilian president’s strategy is similar to that of former United States President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro has emulated, who for months has falsely claimed that the 2020 US election was marred by widespread fraud.
Bolsonaro’s campaign comes as he faces mass protests in recent weeks as well as calls for his impeachment for his government’s handling of COVID-19, which has killed more than 557,200 people in the South American nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
His government faces a Senate commission investigation into its pandemic-related policies, and the health ministry has been accused of irregularities in the procurement of coronavirus vaccines from India.
Bolsonaro has long criticised electronic voting, which was introduced in Brazil in 1996, but he has stepped up his attacks in the build-up to the October 2022 elections. Recent opinion polls show Bolsonaro far behind Lula in the race.
He also called the Superior Electoral Court’s president, Luis Roberto Barroso, an “imbecile” for suggesting introducing a paper ballot could open the process to manipulation.