Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s political career was in tatters on Friday as Brazil’s federal electoral court (TSE) barred the far-right nationalist from public office until 2030 for his conduct during last year’s fraught election.
Five out of seven justices voted to convict the 68-year-old Bolsonaro for abuse of power and misuse of the media over his actions in July 2022, ahead of the election, when he summoned ambassadors to vent unfounded claims about Brazil’s electronic voting system.
Their decision marks a stunning reversal for Bolsonaro, a fiery populist who narrowly lost the October vote to leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Many in Brazil blame Bolsonaro for creating a nationwide movement to overturn the result, which culminated in the Jan. 8 invasion of government buildings in Brasilia by thousands of his supporters.
The impact from the electoral court’s ruling is likely to ripple through Brazilian politics, removing Lula’s main foe from contention in 2026 and opening up space among a competitive field on Brazil’s right.
The majority opinion in the trial was written by Justice Benedito Goncalves, who said Bolsonaro used the meeting with ambassadors to “spread doubts and incite conspiracy theories.” Two conservative-leaning judges dissented.
Justice Alexandre de Moraes, a longtime Bolsonaro adversary who currently heads the TSE, joined the majority, saying Bolsonaro had spread a “chain of lies and fraudulent news” in his “radical” speech to ambassadors.
Lula’s team celebrated the result.
“Some important messages come from the TSE trial: lying is not a legitimate tool for exercising a public function and politics is not governed by the law of the jungle,” Justice Minister Flavio Dino tweeted. “Democracy has overcome its toughest stress test in decades.”
Bolsonaro has denied wrongdoing, and his lawyers have pledged to make an appeal to the Supreme Court that sources said is unlikely to succeed.
On Friday, Bolsonaro described the decision as a “stab in the back,” and said he would keep working to advance right-wing politics in Brazil. However, the TSE decision is not the end of Bolsonaro’s troubles. He still faces multiple criminal probes that could yet land him behind bars.
While his own hopes of beating Lula in 2026 may be over, Bolsonaro has said he would support his wife, Michelle, as candidate. She is a political novice, but an avowed evangelical Christian who could win support among a religious right that is wary of Lula.
“‘Our dream is more alive than ever,'” she wrote on Instagram after the ruling. “I am at your command, my CAPTAIN.”
And he could yet make a comeback. Lula was in jail as recently as 2019, when his corruption conviction was overturned. He is now president.
Analysts at Arko Advice said Bolsonaro still enjoys plenty of political cachet.
“There is still no alternative in the right or center-right with the strength of Jair Bolsonaro,” they wrote in a note to clients. “As a result, the former president remains President Lula’s main antagonist.”
A longtime fan of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s time in office was marked by international criticism over 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 Bolsonaro faced electoral court scrutiny, many of his one-time allies are being questioned by lawmakers in a congressional probe into the Jan. 8 riots.