Brazil’s electoral campaigning season, leading up to the October 2 elections for president, Congress, and state governors and legislatures, officially kicks off on August 16. This year, it is likely to be a critical test for democracy and the rule of law in the country and in Latin America.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election, has been using a mixture of insults and threats to intimidate independent media and the Supreme Court. He has sought to undermine trust in the electoral system, alleging, without providing any proof, that it is unreliable.
In June, Bolsonaro said it “appears” that election winners will be those “who have friends in the Superior Electoral Court.” In July, he called dozens of ambassadors to the presidential palace to listen to him cast doubt on the electoral system. He said hackers “could take a vote from one candidate and give it to another.”
There have been no proven cases of fraud in Brazil since the country adopted electronic ballots nationwide in 2000, a representative of the Superior Electoral Court told Human Rights Watch. Based on that system, Bolsonaro has been elected five times to Congress and then to the presidency.
More than one million Brazilians, including prominent businesspeople, former Supreme Court justices, politicians, and artists, have signed a manifesto defending democratic institutions and the rule of law.
On August 11, a cheering crowd gathered to listen to the manifesto at the University of São Paulo Law School. The initiative was inspired by “Letter to Brazilians,” a manifesto defending human rights and opposing the military regime that a law professor read aloud at the same law school in 1977. Brazil’s then brutal dictatorship, which committed systematic human rights violations, ended eight years later. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is an ardent defender of the military regime of that period.
It is crucial that authorities guarantee Brazilians’ right to vote. This means protecting voters and candidates from violence and ensuring people can safely go to polling places. All candidates should reject baseless claims of fraud and respect the will of the voters, whoever wins. Foreign governments should act in a manner that supports free and fair elections.
Candidates should condemn political violence and call on their supporters to respect the right of Brazilians to peacefully elect their representatives and to run for office without fear.
During the campaign, candidates should tell voters how they plan to address key human rights issues in the country, from guaranteeing public safety and ending police abuses to gender-based violence and the human rights impacts of environmental destruction and corruption.
No real, long-term solutions to these problems are possible without a rights-based system of government based on the will of the people.