Bolsonaro goes on trial

The trial of Brazil’s ex-president Jair Bolsonaro before the Supreme Electoral Court has started in Brasilia.

Bolsonaro is accused of abusing his power and spreading false information about Brazil’s electoral system ahead of last year’s presidential poll.

While it is not a criminal case, the judges do have the power to bar Bolsonaro from running for office for eight years.

He is also under investigation in a number of separate criminal cases.

Bolsonaro, who is back in Brazil after a three-month self-imposed exile in Florida, has not said whether he plans to run for president in the 2026 election.

The far-right politician, who is the honorary president of the Liberal Party, has only said that he would use his “experience to help his party campaign in next year’s municipal elections”.

The charges before the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) revolve around a speech Bolsonaro gave while he was still president in 2022.

On July 18, he invited foreign diplomats to his residence in the capital, Brasilia, where he falsely claimed that the electronic voting machines used in Brazil were prone to being hacked and open to large-scale fraud.

Prosecutors say that the speech violated electoral law but Bolsonaro maintains that he “simply explained how elections work in Brazil”, and did not criticise or attack the electoral system.

The speech came amid a polarising presidential campaign which saw  Bolsonaro being challenged for the top job by his arch rival, left-winger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The bitterly fought election went into a run-off on October 30 and was won by an extremely narrow margin by Lula.

Bolsonaro never publicly acknowledged his defeat and left Brazil for Florida two days before Lula was sworn in as president.

His supporters, who refused to accept the outcome of the election, stormed Brazil’s Congress, the presidential palace and the building housing the Supreme Court on January 8.

Police arrested 1 500 of the rioters but not before parts of the buildings had been ransacked. There is an investigation under way into whether Bolsonaro incited the rioters.

However, the seven judges presiding over the trial at the TSE have only been asked to rule on whether the former president abused his power to try to influence voters when he criticised Brazil’s electoral system.

Bolsonaro did not attend the start of the trial in person.

A simple majority is needed to reach a decision.

The ex-president’s lawyer has already said that his client planned to appeal should the ruling go against him.

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