Brazil's lower house rejected Jair Bolsonaro's bid to change the country voting system, likely increasing political tensions after he argued that failing to do so would allow the 2022 election to be stolen from him.
The president's proposal would require a paper printout of each electronic vote cast. As a constitutional amendment, it needed 601 of the 513 deputies to elect 308 people. The government was only given 229 votes but received just 8 votes By falling short, the constitutional amendment could be shelved.
'The lower house has answered this matter and I hope it is definitely buried, Speaker Arthur Lira said in an announcement of the result.
Undeterred, Bolsonaro's allies will look to convince the Senate to take comparable legislation up in the upper chamber. 'We still have a chance to fight in the Senate, because there was a similar bill there, Congressman Vitor Hugo, an ally of the president, said during the voting.
Alarm bells are ringing in Brasilia after the far-right leader suggested that, without paper receipts that could be manually counted, he would not accept the outcome of the election or perhaps not hold it next year as mandated by the constitution. An unusual parade of military tanks rolling through the streets of the capital added to the feeling of unease, with many politicians describing it as an attempt by the President to intimidate them.
The parade was organized by the Navy to invite Bolsonaro and his defence minister to participate in a traditional military exercise that takes place next week. However, it was the first time that the invitation was given with a display of military power in Brasilia. In a statement the navy said it had long planned the event and that it had no relation with votes being carried out in congress.
Yet the event angered legislators on both sides of the political spectrum. 'It's a pathetic scene, an attack on democracy, said Senator Omar Aziz, who presides over the congressional committee investigating the government's handling of pandemic.
Even Bolsonaro's Speaker Lira, a key ally of Lira, disapproved. In a polarized country, such as Brazil, he said, the incident creates speculation that congress may be under some sort of pressure.
Bolsonaro's electronic ballots launched in recent weeks as Brazil's Electronic Voters shifted into the spotlight as Bolsonaro, facing a sharp drop in popularity amid a vaccination-purchasing scandal, launched a relentless attack on their credibility. He repeatedly claims, without real proof, that the system that has been in place in the country for the past two decades - and through which he was elected - is vulnerable to hacking and corruption.
In a report released Tuesday, the Brazilian Audit Court said there are already several safety mechanisms in the current system that allow the voting process and counting of the ballots to be audited.
Following Donald Trump's footsteps, Bolsonaro has been sowing doubt about the integrity of both the voting system and the electoral authority in the United States. The strategy has stirred fears that he may need to lay the groundwork for challenge the results of the next year's election if he loses.
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His rhetoric has pushed the country toward the brink of an institutional crisis. Last week the Supreme Court chief justice canceled plans for a meeting with Bolsonaro and the heads of congress, saying the president seeks to 'complicate, frustrate or inhibit the electoral process.
Bolsonaro's handling of the paper vote issue has also deflected attention from his administration's erratic handling of the pandemic. A current congressional inquiry is probing allegations of a kickback scheme in the government's purchase of vaccines, which the president denied having any knowledge of.
'We should recognize the results when they are contrary and when they are favorable – that's from democracy, Lira said after the bill was defeated. It would be good if President Bolsonaro looked at it this way.