Electoral officials and senior politicians have criticised the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, after the far-right leader called foreign diplomats to the presidential palace and made unfounded allegations about the integrity of the upcoming election.
Bolsonaro told them the electronic voting system in Brazil, which has been used without controversy since 1996, was vulnerable. The remarks raised concerns that the populist politician – facing poor polling results – may attempt to discredit the democratic process if he loses in October.
The baseless claims were immediately refuted by Brazil’s supreme electoral court (TSE), the body that oversees elections.
The TSE issued a list of 20 rebuttals to Bolsonaro’s statements and the court’s president, Edson Fachin, called them “unacceptable electoral denialism”.
“It’s time to say enough of this disinformation,” Fachin said. “It’s also time to say no to authoritarian populism.”
The president of the senate also rejected Bolsonaro’s allegations, saying there was “no just cause or reason” to question the efficacy of the electoral process.
“The national congress, whose current composition was elected under the modern electoral system, is obliged to affirm to the population that the electronic ballot boxes will give the country a faithful representation of the people’s wishes, whatever they are,” said Rodrigo Pacheco.
Bolsonaro’s decision to ramp up criticism in front of a foreign audience may be linked to his poor showing in the polls.
Most give the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a double-digit lead and his supporters are optimistic he could even win in the first round and avoid a runoff.
The first round takes place on 2 October, with a possible runoff scheduled for 30 October.
Bolsonaro, a supporter of Donald Trump, has previously questioned the trustworthiness of electronic ballot boxes even after winning easily in 2018, and he later tried to pass a law mandating a return to paper ballots.
That attempt was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 and another attempt to include paper ballots along with the electronic votes was rejected by congress a year later.
His speech to diplomats on Monday included attacks on judges and TSE officials who will be charged with verifying the results of the elections not just for president but also for congress and 27 state governors.
The address also focused on a 2018 investigation into an attempted hack of the electoral system. An official inquiry ruled there was no risk to the count or results.
Bolsonaro limited media access to his 30-minute speech at the Planalto, the presidential palace. However, it was transmitted live on state television, prompting some opposition deputies to claim they will take him to court for improper use of government resources.
Lula said it was a shame Brazil did not have a leader more interested in problems such as jobs, development and hunger. “Instead, he’s telling lies about our democracy,” Lula tweeted.