Brazil’s Bolsonaro loses a major vote after heavily criticized military display

Women offering flowers to a soldier
Women offer flowers to a soldier in a show of opposition to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after a hasty military display in Brasilia.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suffered a major defeat in Congress late Tuesday when lawmakers refused to adopt his proposal to require printed receipts from some electronic voting machines.

The defeat came hours after dozens of military vehicles and hundreds of soldiers paraded past Brazil’s presidential palace as Bolsonaro looked on. Brazil’s navy said the convoy had been planned long before the congressional vote, but it was announced only Monday, and critics said it looked like an attempt to intimidate opponents of a president who has often praised the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship.

Bolsonaro has insisted that printed receipts from ballot machines are needed to avoid fraud, without providing any evidence that Brazil’s all-electronic voting system is prone to cheating. He needed 308 votes to pass the proposed constitutional change, but got only 229 Tuesday night.


The opposition, however, also fell short of its goal of rebuffing the president with an overwhelming majority, receiving only 218 votes.

The military convoy had rumbled past the congressional building and Brazil’s Defense Ministry earlier in the day. The vehicles left the city at night.

Military parades in the capital are usually limited to Brazil’s independence day. Tuesday’s procession was described as a ceremonial invitation for Bolsonaro to attend annual naval exercises that are held in a town outside the capital.

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Critics contend that Bolsonaro is trying to sow doubt early among his base of passionate supporters about next year’s election, setting the stage for potential conflicts similar to those spawned by former President Trump’s allegations of fraud in the U.S.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly insulted Luis Roberto Barroso, a Supreme Court justice who is president of Brazil’s electoral court, accusing him of working to benefit former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been leading in polls for next year’s election.

The measure voted on Tuesday was a watered-down version of an initial proposal to require printouts at all of the nation’s voting ballot boxes. That measure was rejected last week by a congressional committee.

Electoral authorities and even many of Bolsonaro’s political allies opposed the proposal, saying it would attack a nonexistent problem and could create opportunities for vote-buying.


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Claudio Couto, a political scientist with the Rio de Janeiro-based Getulio Vargas Foundation, said Tuesday’s rejection marked Bolsonaro’s biggest legislative defeat.

“The administration is getting more frail in every aspect. It suffers in polls, it is investigated in the Senate inquiry on the COVID-19 pandemic and the chances that Bolsonaro is not reelected are getting bigger,” Couto said. “By insisting [on] today’s proposal to solve a problem that does not exist, Bolsonaro has made this defeat to be important.”

The call for a vote appeared to be a bid by lower house Speaker Arthur Lira, a Bolsonaro ally, to settle the dispute for good and ease tensions.

On Monday, Lira called the military exercise taking place the same day as the vote a “tragic coincidence.″

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“We hope that this subject is finally ended in the lower house,” Lira said after the vote.

Juan Gonzalez, the U.S. National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters Monday that Biden administration officials were “very candid” in speaking last week with Bolsonaro about elections, particularly in light of what has happened in the U.S.