In message to Bolsonaro, Moraes assumes TSE promising

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Minister Alexandre de Moraes took over the presidency of the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE, in Portuguese) this Tuesday night (August 16) surrounded by a set of officials from the three branches of power and giving an indigestible speech to Bolsonaro supporters. The minister, who will be heading this year’s elections, promised a “firm and relentless” action while in the most important post of the institution that rules the country’s electoral process.

“Intervention by the Electoral Court will be minimal. However, the Court will be quick, firm, and relentless to curb abusive practices or the spread of false or fraudulent news, especially those concealed behind coward anonymity on social media: the famous fake news”, Moraes said, gesturing at the digital militias that TSE is targeting.

The minister’s speech was seen as an indirect message to president Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party) and his supporters, whose actions during the 2018 electoral campaign were questioned in Court due to accusations of promoting smear campaigns about opponents on social media through fake news. Regarding it, Alexandre de Moraes also made statements that highlight the difference between irregular actions and the right to freedom of speech.

“Freedom of speech does not mean that one can destroy democracy, institutions, the dignity, or honor of others. The right to freedom of speech does not include the right to spread hate and prejudice. It does not allow the spreading of hate speech and ideas that contradict the constitutional order and rule of law, including during the period of electoral propaganda”, he emphasized in an incisive statement whose tone was expected in Brasilia’s political backstage.

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The minister made this statement amid an institutional crisis between the Executive and Judiciary branches, whose members have been in the spotlight due to Bolsonaro’s comments since he began to systematically and permanently attack the credibility of the Justice branch of power, electronic voting machines, and the electoral system. The former army captain’s behavior is associated, among other things, with the fear of losing the elections. That is the reason he is allegedly paving the way for questioning the presidential election result.

Bolsonaro’s behavior caused Moraes to adopt, throughout last year, a tougher approach about the abovementioned matter not only in his work in TSE but also in the Supreme Court (STF, in Portuguese), where he is in charge of the fake news inquiry. The investigations compromise the president and his sons, which is why the issue has caused a sharp and growing public dispute between Bolsonaro and Moraes. After a series of political events, the minister became the focus of the president’s attacks on the judiciary.

Caution

The statements of the new president of TSE were heard in person this Tuesday by several authorities, including the presidential candidates Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party), Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party), and Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement), and former presidents Michel Temer (Brazilian Democratic Movement), Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party) and José Sarney (Brazilian Democratic Movement). Moraes, who succeeds Edson Fachin in office and will lead the Court until June 2024, will have Minister Ricardo Lewandowski as his deputy, who was also sworn in on Tuesday night. 

Alexandre de Moraes’ statements at the ceremony reproduce the kind of statements he gave on other occasions. In June, during the session that made official his choice for leading the institution, he said that “Electoral Justice will not tolerate that militias, whatever acting in or out the virtual world, disrespect the people’s sovereign will and attack democracy in Brazil”.

The speeches of Moraes were carefully listened to by a variety of political characters as a means of evaluating the current state of the institutional crisis, whose next chapters will be determined by Bolsonaro and the reactions of the Electoral Justice and the STF, especially by the newly appointed minister.

Overview

Moraes’ arrival in TSE’s most prominent position was preceded by votes in the STF that illustrate how the magistrate’s journey will probably be in his new position. In one of these votes, in October 2021, the newly appointed president of TSE voted in favor of establishing a thesis according to which sending fake news messages in bulk via WhatsApp could be considered an abuse of political power and misuse of the media.

“The Electoral Justice may be blind, but it cannot be foolish. It’s ingenuity to think that social media platforms are not tools of social communication. ‘[Social media] is the world’s most important tool of communication”, Moraes said when arguing that spreading lies in bulk via Whatsapp could lead to removal from office. The minister’s vote was manifest within the scope of the investigation into the responsibilities of the Bolsonaro-Mourão ticket in sending fake news in the 2018 elections.

Democracies and elections

Alexandre de Moraes also dedicated part of his speech to defending democracy and Brazil’s organization to elect its political representatives. He praised the statistics that help to measure the country’s electoral process, which has more than 156 million voters. 

“We are one of the largest democracies of the world in terms of the popular vote. We are the fourth largest in the world. Yet, we are the only democracy in the world that counts and makes public the results of elections on the same day of the election, and in a fast, secure, competent, and transparent manner. This is something to be proud of”, Moraes stated while he was enthusiastically applauded when indirectly refuting Bolnonaro’s claims about the reliability of the electoral process.

Moraes recalled that TSE works with the 27 Regional Electoral Courts (TREs, in Portuguese) all around the country. The court’s ruling staff is formed by a group of at least seven ministers: three ministers from STF, two ministers from the Brazilian equivalent to the Court of Appeals (Superior Tribunal de Justiça or STJ, in Portuguese), and two magistrates appointed by the president himself based on choices made by the lawyer class.

Off and running

On the day that officially inaugurates the presidential campaign, two of the three candidates ahead in the polls – former president Lula (Workers’ Party) and former minister Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) – were in the state of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest electoral college. 

Lula (Workers’ Party) campaigned at the entrance of a Volkswagen factory in the city of São Bernardo do Campo (São Paulo state), the city where he started his political life. Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party) attended a motorcycle rally in the city of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais state, where he was stabbed during the 2018 electoral campaign. 

Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) walked on the streets of Guaianases, a neighborhood in the city of São Paulo, and talked to the population. Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement) and met representatives of the culture sector of São Paulo. 

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The week that officially opens the electoral race is also marked by the release of national polls by the country’s two main polling consulting companies: Ipec (former Ibope) and Datafolha.

This Monday, Ipec showed that Lula is heading the voting intentions, with 44%, while Bolsonaro has 32%. The leftist candidate surpassed the total percentage points of all the other candidates together (44% against 41%), which indicates he will win in the first round. Datafolha releases its survey this Thursday (August 18). 

Despite the official beginning of the electoral campaign, the free political advertising time, broadcasted on radio and television, is expected to start on August 26 and last until September 30. The first round of the elections will be on October 2, and the second round will be on October 30.

Edited by: Flávia Chacon

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