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Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is barred from running for office until 2030

SAO PAULO (AP) – Far-right former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was barred on Friday from running for office again until 2030 after a panel of judges concluded that he abused his power and cast unfounded doubts on the country’s electronic voting system.

The decision upends the 68-year-old’s political future and likely erases any chance for him to regain power.

Five judges on the nation’s highest electoral court agreed that Bolsonaro used government communication channels to promote his campaign and sowed distrust about the vote. Two judges voted against the move.

“This decision will end Bolsonaro’s chances of being president again, and he knows it,” said political science professor Carlos Melo at Insper University in Sao Paulo.

“After this, he will try to stay out of jail, elect some of his allies to keep his political capital, but it is very unlikely he will ever return to the presidency.”

The case focused on a July 18, 2022, meeting where Bolsonaro used government staffers, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasilia to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system was rigged.

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. PHOTO: AP

In her decisive vote that formed a majority, Judge Carmen Lucia – who is also a Supreme Court justice – said “the facts are incontrovertible”.

“The meeting did take place. It was convened by the then-president. Its content is available. It was examined by everyone, and there was never a denial that it did happen,” she said.

Speaking to reporters in Minas Gerais, Bolsonaro lamented that the trial was unfair and politically motivated. “We’re going to talk with the lawyers. Life goes on,” he said when asked what his next step would be. He called the ruling an attack on Brazilian democracy. “It’s a rather difficult moment.”

Melo said the decision is “very unlikely” to be overturned. It removes Bolsonaro from the 2024 and 2028 municipal elections as well as the 2026 general elections.

The former president also faces other legal troubles, including criminal investigations. Future criminal convictions could extend his ban by years.

Former president Fernando Collor de Mello and current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were declared ineligible in the past, but Bolsonaro’s case marks the first time a president has been suspended for election violations rather than a criminal offense. Brazilian law forbids candidates with criminal sentences from running for office.

Lula’s eligibility was reinstated by Brazil’s top court following rulings that then-judge and now Senator Sergio Moro was biased when he sentenced the leftist leader to almost 10 years in prison for corruption and money laundering.