Bolsonaro Deemed Ineligible for Elections: Electoral Court Delivers 8-Year Setback

Rawlings Mitema Onserio

On June 30th, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court overwhelmingly voted in favor of rendering Former President Jair Bolsonaro ineligible to run for public office for a period of 8 years. This effectively means that Mr. Bolsonaro will be barred from contesting for public office in the 2024 and 2028 municipal elections and the 2026 general elections in Brazil, effectively reducing him to a ceremonial role for his Liberal Party and the right-wing in Brazil.

Incidentally, Bolsonaro is not the first former President of Brazil to be barred from contesting future elections. Former President Fernando Collor was barred from participating in future elections, as was the incumbent president, Lula da Silva. However, President Lula’s electoral eligibility was restored after the Brazilian Supreme Court found irregularities in his prosecution and sentencing.  Bolsonaro was accused of abuse of political power and misuse of the media by holding a meeting with ambassadors on July 18, 2022, at the Palacio da Alvorada, and attacking the electoral system without evidence; this led to the first time a former president was barred from future elections for electoral offenses, rather than criminal offenses. This is in addition to numerous other lawsuits that have been brought against the Former President, which total around 16. Bolsonaro has also been mired in accusations concerning the deaths of Indigenous Yanomami people, inaction leading to the deaths of 700,000 people from Covid-19, corruption in the Ministry of Education, and an attempt to buy votes from the poor. This is in addition to the accusation that Mr. Bolsonaro was involved in the storming of Brazil’s congress by his fierce supporters on January 8th. Mr. Bolsonaro has denied all these accusations and called the decision to bar him from upcoming elections an attack on Brazilian democracy.

Upon President Lula’s victory in the 2022 Presidential elections, Mr. Bolsonaro took leave for Florida, choosing to skip the ceremonial handing of power to his rival. His decampment to Florida was a move that weakened him politically, according to political analyst Thomas Traumann.  According to Time magazine, Bolsonaro spent his time in the U.S. “wandering around Florida supermarkets, eating fried chicken alone at fast-food restaurants, and holding court for supporters from the driveway of a modest home owned by a former ultimate-fighting champion in a gated community south of Orlando”, hardly a move befitting a man who only two months prior had been the leader of South America’s largest economy.

Bolsonaro and the Political Waves in Latin America

From the mid-2010s to the early 2020s, Latin America experienced a political phenomenon known as the conservative wave (onda conservadora in Portuguese and ola conservadora in Spanish); left-wing governments that had been in power for decades suffered significant losses in democratic elections in succession. Indeed, from around 1998 to the mid-2010s, the pink tide ruled across the region, as left-wing politicians and populists such as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez maintained a vise-like grip on the region’s politics. However, starting around 2014, things began rapidly changing. In Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a Peronist, was succeeded by Mauricio Macri, a center-right politician, in 2015. In Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, a conservative politician, took over the presidency from Evo Morales, one of South America’s staunchest socialists. Yet the most significant victory was that of Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected to the presidency, defeating the Workers Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad who had been endorsed by the then Former President Lula. Latin America’s largest democracy had elected the man dubbed “The Trump of the Tropics” to its most important office. However, he failed to secure a second term in the 2022 presidential elections and his defeat further signaled the rise of the left in Latin America as Lula took over, and elsewhere on the continent, Luis Arce brought the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) party back to power in Bolivia, and Colombia elected its first left-wing president in history, Gustavo Petro. As of May 2023, 12 of 19 countries are now run by left-wing governments across Latin America, representing 92% of the region’s people and 90% of its GDP, which suggests that another pink tide might very well be on the rise again.

What is Next for Bolsonaro?

Despite the recent string of setbacks, Bolsonaro still maintains a stronghold on Brazilian right-wing politics. While he will not be able to contest the elections as an overturning of the electoral court’s decision remains unlikely, he still sees himself as a kingmaker of sorts and right-wing candidates will undoubtedly seek his endorsement to bolster their chances of victory. Owing to his immense popularity, Bolsonaro could considerably swing votes in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in favor of his preferred candidate. Therefore, ambitious conservatives will undoubtedly scramble for his seal of approval in these two crucial regions. Perhaps the only silver lining for Bolsonaro is that his recent trial has given his passionate fan base a new lease of life online, as donations have been pouring in from all over the country to offset about 1.1 million Brazilian reais (about $230,000) in fines levied by Sao Paulo state’s government for Bolsonaro’s repeated violations of health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. This suggests that Bolsonaro still enjoys enormous popularity among Brazilians,  however, it remains to be seen if it compares to the popularity that catapulted him to the presidency in 2018.

Looking Ahead

Ever since returning from Florida, Bolsonaro has been on a countrywide tour, disparaging the new government and engaging with his supporters. However, with his inability to participate in the upcoming elections, it is unclear whom conservatives will turn to with an eye on the upcoming elections. While political analysts do not expect Bolsonaro to ride quietly into the night, a period of political dormancy for 8 years leaves little hope for optimism for his supporters, who will be waiting with bated breath for his next moves.

  1. Will Bolsonaro’s ineligibility be held up?
  2. Will the Brazilian conservatives be able to find a suitable candidate for the next presidential elections in case the Former President is unable to run?
  3. What are Mr. Bolsonaro’s political plans for the future if he is unable to contest the next presidential elections?

Suggested Readings

Bolsonaro Deemed Ineligible for Eight Years by Electoral Court. June 2023

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court decides to make Bolsonaro ineligible for eight years. June 2023

Ineligibility could be just the beginning for Bolsonaro. July 2023.

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Bolsonaro Deemed Ineligib…

by Rawlings Mitema Onserio time to read: 4 min