Brazil's Bolsonaro escalates rhetoric over electoral fraud


FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a ceremony of signing a decree establishing the Public Integrity System of the Federal government at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

(Corrects to clarify in paragraphs 1 and 7 that Bolsonaro is seeking mixed system, not replacement of electronic)

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro pleaded on Thursday for the adoption of printed ballots that can be counted, alleging that it is necessary to avoid fraud in the country's electronic voting system in next year's election.

"I want elections next year, but clean, democratic and sincere elections," he said in his weekly social media webcast to supporters.

Bolsonaro showed a series of internet video clips as alleged evidence of past fraud, maintaining that democracy was at risk in Brazil.

Critics say that Bolsonaro, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, is sowing election doubts to pave the way for him not to accept defeat in 2022.

With his popularity falling after overseeing the world's second deadliest coronavirus outbreak, opinion polls show he trails former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, though neither of them has officially announced they will run.

Bolsonaro has insisted for months that Brazil should adopt the paper ballot, even though a constitutional amendment changing the electoral system has not gained much traction in Congress.

He advocates a mixed system in which voters submit ballots at electronic urns, which also print out votes that can be counted if the result is challenged.

Brazil's top electoral authority, the TSE, has refuted unfounded allegations by Bolsonaro that there was fraud in the 2014 election, saying electronic voting can be audited well. Even the loser in 2014, Aécio Neves, who was defeated by Lula's candidate Dilma Rousseff in a close election, said it was fair.

The escalation of Bolsonaro's claims of electoral fraud came at a fraught time, just days after a bombshell newspaper report that Brazil's defense minister had issued a threat that the 2022 election would not take place unless printed ballots were used.

The Estado de S. Paulo story said Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto, a former army general, had said this to House Speaker Arthur Lira via an interlocutor. Reuters was unable to independently verify the story, which cited anonymous sources.

Both Lira and Braga Netto denied the report.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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