By Ricardo Brito
BRASILIA (Reuters) -Former President Jair Bolsonaro was on the cusp of losing his political future on Thursday, as three of a required four federal electoral court justices ruled he had abused his power in last year’s fraught election.
The case was adjourned until Friday when the remaining justices will rule.
Bolsonaro could find himself barred from public office until 2030 if a majority of the Brasilia court’s seven judges find he abused his power by summoning ambassadors to vent unfounded claims about Brazil’s voting system ahead of last year’s vote.
So far three judges have voted to convict the far-right nationalist for abuse of political power and misuse of the media, while one has not.
Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain, narrowly lost last October’s election to leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
He stands accused of having created a nationwide movement to overturn the election result that culminated in the Jan. 8 invasion of government buildings in Brasilia by thousands of his supporters. He denies any wrongdoing.
Elected in 2018 amid of wave of right-wing leaders that included his political idol, former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro received global criticism for his lackluster stewardship of the Amazon rainforest, his laissez-faire approach to COVID-19 restrictions, and his evidence-free attacks on Brazil’s electoral system.
The TSE trial is part of a broader reckoning in Brazil with the fallout from the country’s most painful election in a generation. While the former president faces electoral court scrutiny, many of his one-time allies are being questioned by lawmakers in a congressional probe into the Jan. 8 riots.
Bolsonaro flew to Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, where he was greeted at the airport with shouts of “criminal” and “coup-monger.” He said the TSE trial was a political witch-hunt aimed at allowing Brazil’s left to fight uncontested in the 2026 election in which he still hoped to run.
Nonetheless, many in Brazil, including Bolsonaro, believe he is likely to be barred from office – a stunning turnaround for a figure who was until recently Brazil’s most powerful man.
“Everyone seems to say that it’s likely I’m going to be barred from office,” he told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper in an interview. “I won’t despair. What can I do?”
Bolsonaro does not risk jail in the TSE case. Nonetheless, the 68-year-old still faces multiple criminal investigations that could still put him behind bars.
Many of his former allies have turned their backs on him, pinning their hopes on new right-wingers like Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio Freitas and Minas Gerais Governor Romeu Zema.
Bolsonaro’s best hope at future relevance may lie with his family, including his wife and lawmaker sons, who could also harbor their own presidential ambitions. He told the Folha de S. Paulo that his wife Michelle could well be a presidential candidate in 2026, but said she lacked political experience.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito, Writing by Steven Grattan, Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Angus MacSwan and Conor Humphries)
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