Bolsonaro cites conspiracy theories in attack on Brazil’s electoral system

Broadcast part of president’s aim to bring back paper ballots ahead of next election

President Jair Bolsonaro has unleashed his strongest attack yet against Brazil's electoral system in a bizarre live broadcast that has reignited fears over his authoritarian ambitions.

After three years claiming he had proof that the country’s widely respected electronic voting machines are subject to fraud, the far-right leader had said he would finally present his evidence on Thursday night.

Instead, in a two-hour broadcast that was met with widespread scorn, he played a series of video clips culled from the internet promoting wild conspiracy theories that have circulated online for years and already been disproven by electoral authorities.

During the broadcast, which was carried on the state television channel, Mr Bolsonaro contradicted his previous statements and admitted it was impossible to prove whether or not fraud had occurred in previous elections. But he claimed: “We have presented a mountain of clues here.” One of his sources cited as evidence is an astrologer who performs acupuncture on trees.


The broadcast was part of the president’s campaign to bring back paper ballots in time for next year’s presidential election. His opponents say the demand, which almost certainly will not be met, is an attempt to create a pretext for not recognising potential defeat or even scrapping the poll altogether.

Opinion polls show Mr Bolsonaro trailing former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva amid widespread anger at his government's mishandling of the pandemic and mounting evidence of corruption in its vaccination programme.

Brazil’s electronic voting system is overseen by an electoral court headed by a supreme court justice and almost universally viewed as secure and efficient. The electoral court has said the president’s demand for a change is unjustifiable and impracticable. Efforts by his supporters in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to bring back paper ballots have all but died.

The presidential broadcast, which included a new attack on Luís Roberto Barroso, the supreme court justice who heads the electoral court, comes a week after defence minister Walter Braga Netto was reported to have threatened the head of Congress with the scrapping of next year’s elections if paper ballots were not used.

A retired army general who is viewed as one of Mr Bolsonaro’s loyalist aides, Mr Braga Netto’s denial of the report was met with widespread scepticism.

The latest attacks on the country’s voting system come after a week in which Mr Bolsonaro reshuffled his ministerial team, forcing the military to cede space to a bloc of scandal-plagued parties in Congress who are protecting him from impeachment in return for control over swathes of the federal government apparatus and budget.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America