Brazil’s Congress rejects Bolsonaro’s bid to bring back paper ballots

Unsupported allegations against voting system come ahead of elections next year

Brazil's Congress has rejected a proposed change to the country's voting system without which far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro has threatened not to recognise the result of next year's presidential election.

The proposal to bring back paper ballots was voted down just hours after Mr Bolsonaro attended a hastily improvised military parade, which passed by the Congress building, leading to accusations he was attempting to intimidate the legislature into ceding to his demands.

Though unable to provide any evidence to back up his claims, Mr Bolsonaro alleges the current electronic voting system is subject to fraud and demanded it be complemented by paper ballots. Electoral authorities insist there has never been any evidence of tampering with a system in place since 1996.

Opponents say Mr Bolsonaro is seeking to create a pretext for not recognising potential defeat in next year's elections. Increasingly besieged by accusations of corruption and incompetence, he is trailing in opinion polls to former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.


As Bolsonaro’s disapproval ratings have soared, he has stepped up his campaign against the current voting system, threatening not to recognise next year’s result or even preventing the election from taking place at all.

The proposal, which needed 308 votes to reach the 60 per cent threshold necessary to pass a constitutional amendment, received the backing of only 229 of the 513 members of the lower chamber. Crucial to its defeat were desertions from the two parties whose alliance with the president is shielding him from impeachment.

Online threats

Several deputies who voted down the measure reported receiving threats from Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters online.

The former army captain blamed the defeat on supreme court justice Luís Roberto Barroso, who presides over the authority responsible for overseeing elections. He insinuated the judge had pressured legislators with cases before the courts into voting against the measure. Speaking to a group of supporters, he also said next year’s election would be one “in which you will not be able to trust the result”.

In another blow for the increasingly isolated leader, the Senate also voted on Tuesday to repeal a national security law on the statute books since the last military dictatorship, increasingly used by the Bolsonaro administration to investigate critics of the president.

Separately, as questions raged about the politicisation of the armed forces, vice-president Hamilton Mourão sought to play down the significance of Tuesday’s display of military hardware in the capital.

The former army general said the parade had been organised as “a homage” to Mr Bolsonaro and that if it had been intended to intimidate Congress “it would be extremely ridiculous”.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

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