Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro talks with media
Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro talks with media upon his arrival at Brasilia International Airport, in Brasilia, on June 30, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Brasmlia: Brazil's far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro vowed Friday to appeal a court ruling barring him from public office for eight years over unfounded attacks he had made against the country's voting system.

The ruling renders the 68-year-old ineligible to stand in the next presidential election in 2026 - opening the contest for a new leader for Brazil's political right.

Bolsonaro was tried by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) over claims he made in a televised meeting with foreign diplomats in July 2022, during which he claimed electronic voting machines in use since 1996 compromised election transparency.

He gave no proof for the claims he made just three months ahead of his election defeat to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Prosecutors say Bolsonaro's claims contributed to a violent invasion of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in January by supporters angry about his electoral loss.

In a verdict that stretched over several days, five of the seven judges of the TSE in Brasilia voted to censure Bolsonaro for alleged abuses of power. Two found in his favor.

The former president told journalists the TSE decision was a "stab in the back" and he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

"I'm not dead, we're going to keep working," Bolsonaro told journalists in Belo Horizonte in Brazil's southeast - far from the court in Brasilia.

"This is not the end of the right in Brazil," he insisted.

'Collective paranoia'

The lead judge on the case, Benedito Goncalves, had ruled Tuesday to convict Bolsonaro, saying he had used "violent speech and lies" that "endangered the credibility" of Brazil's electoral system.

Goncalves said the 2022 meeting "served to incite a state of collective paranoia" about elections at a time Brazil was deeply polarized.

"He instigated a belief that there was a real threat that the results of the 2022 election would be adulterated," said the judge. "It was extremely harmful to the democratic environment."

Judge Floriano Marques was another to vote for conviction, saying Bolsonaro had acted with "electoral objectives" to "intentionally convey the idea that Brazilian elections are not clean."

Justice Minister Flavio Dino on Friday stressed that "lying is not a legitimate tool for the exercise of a public function."

Democracy in Brazil, he added, "passed the toughest stress test in decades."

Thousands of Bolsonaro's supporters stormed the halls of power in Brasilia on January 8, trashing offices, vandalizing artworks and calling for the military to intervene to oust veteran leftist Lula - inaugurated just a week earlier.

The scenes drew widespread comparisons to the January 6, 2021 riots in Washington, when supporters of ex-president Donald Trump - Bolsonaro's political role model - invaded the US Capitol building in a failed bid to overturn his election loss.

Nearly half the electorate voted for Bolsonaro in a runoff round of elections last October, but it was not enough for a win.

Tropical Trump

Nicknamed the "Tropical Trump," Bolsonaro's presidency was tumultuous: at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that claimed more than 700,000 lives in Brazil, he mocked face masks, social distancing and vaccines, warning the jab could "turn you into an alligator."

He also faced an international outcry over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which surged on his watch.

Bolsonaro spent three months in the United States after his term ended, and has kept a low profile since returning to Brazil in March to serve as honorary president of his Liberal Party.

He faces a raft of other legal woes. Any one of five Supreme Court investigations could send him to jail - including for allegedly inciting the Brasilia riots.

The police are also investigating claims of a fake Covid-19 vaccination certificate and of diamond jewelry snuck into the country from Saudi Arabia.

His wife, Michelle, came to Bolsonaro's defense Friday, saying on Instagram: "God does not and will never lose control of anything."