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Brazil election: Police accused of suppressing Lula’s votes for Bolsonaro

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s most bitterly contested election since the collapse of the military dictatorship ended on Sunday with allegations that police tried to suppress voting in regions favorable to presidential challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The Federal Highway Police, an organization with close ties to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, reportedly set up roadblocks to delay voters in the country’s impoverished northeast and other centers of support for Lula, a former president.

Traffic police director Silvinei Vasques previously posted a call to vote for Bolsonaro on Instagram, according to the O Globo newspaper. It was later deleted. Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, a supporter of Lula, demanded his immediate arrest. Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, Brazil’s top electoral authority, ordered Vasques to halt operations immediately or face personal fines of nearly $100,000 an hour.

Later on Sunday, however, Moraes sought to calm concerns of a broader effort that could taint the vote. He said each incident would be investigated, but police complied with the order to cease operations. He said the checkpoints had delayed, but not prevented, voters from casting their ballots and that he would not extend voting hours beyond the scheduled 5 p.m. closing.

“The damage to voters was a delay during inspections,” Moraes said. “There was no infringement of the right to vote and, logically, there will be no postponement of the end of the ballot… There is no need to exaggerate on this question. there were no instances of voters going home.

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Despite the declaration of Moraes, who often opposed Bolsnaro, Lula’s Workers’ Party demanded an extension of the poll in the 560 localities where he declared that “illegal” police operations had taken place. The party called for prioritizing expansions in the northeast, where it said operations were being carried out “with greater intensity”.

The Rio-based Igarapé Institute, a think tank that studies security and violence, said the operations appeared to be physically delaying “thousands” of voters, but could have had a wider reach as news emerged. disruptions were spreading online.

“Since his election, Bolsonaro has tried to overthrow the democratic institutions of Brazil,” said Ilona Szabó, president of the institute. “What we see today – hundreds of Federal Highway Patrol operations preventing citizens from voting – is further evidence of his efforts to undermine the democratic process.”

G1 and O Globo reported on Sunday that Bolsonaro had asked his justice minister, Anderson Torres, to order the operations. The president’s aides hoped that the police would be able to prevent a possible transport of Lula voters by the Workers’ Party, media said. In Brazil, it is illegal for parties to transport voters to the polls.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, congressman and son of the president, appeared to confirm knowledge of the operation on Twitter.

“We have a ‘reverse voting’ operation,” he tweeted on Sunday. “The [Worker’s Party] has a vote buy [operation] and they are upset that the police are working. Number 302 of the penal code says it is a crime to buy food and transport on election day. Please let the police work and arrest anyone who wants to arrest them.

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The traffic police confirmed the launch of special electoral operations to “guarantee mobility, safety and fight against crime on federal highways”. They said in a statement that they escorted nearly 800 voting machines to their polling stations and seized 4.5 million reales – $850,000 – in 12 incidents. The result, they said, was a 43% reduction in road fatalities and a 72% reduction in injuries. They did not provide further details on these claims.

“The PRF remains steadfast in its constitutional objective of ensuring the safety of society,” the agency said.

Eduardo Bolsonaro’s son tweeted that the police statement showed police were following the law “as usual”.

The operations have shaken some officials. Charles Cristiano, mayor of one of the towns believed to have been affected, said a traffic police team set up checkpoints when polling stations opened at 8 a.m. on Sunday and cleared them. kept in place for three and a half hours. The stated objective: to name bikers who were not wearing a helmet or who had expired papers.

Motorbikes are the main form of transportation in Incuité, Cristiano said, especially for rural residents, who can’t always afford to keep their vehicle papers up to date. Lula won 79.69 percent of valid votes in the inner city of 22,000 in the first round of elections on October 2. Bolsonaro won 15.31%.

Following the checkpoints, Cristiano said, by 3 p.m. about 40% of voters had already cast their ballots.

“I think it is [an attempt at suppression]“Cristiano told the Washington Post. “Coincidentally, on election day, a blitz on the main access to the city? We try to circumvent this by calling people to come and vote, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t vote. I think that will increase the number of abstentions.

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Civic Vigil, a coalition of dozens of civil society organizations monitoring the vote, expressed concern.

Critics say Bolsonaro undermined democracy during his first term by filling the prosecutor’s office and police with loyalists and appointing current and former generals to his cabinet and other leadership positions. If he wins, he has signaled the possibility of extending after the Supreme Court – a body that Bolsonaro says is biased against him.

Concern over such moves was so strong that the left-wing Lula party this year won support from center-right leaders and former opponents, including former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

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