Brazil's top prosecutor says Bolsonaro election rhetoric like Trump's, no crime

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BRASILIA, May 23 (Reuters) - Brazil's top public prosecutor said President Jair Bolsonaro has committed no crime by questioning the legitimacy of the voting system or suggesting he might not concede defeat in the October elections as former U.S. President Donald Trump did in 2020.

Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, appointed by Bolsonaro in 2019, said in an interview with Reuters that threatening not to accept defeat was political rhetoric and not in itself a prosecutable crime.

"If the president thinks, as Trump did, that there are problems (with the electoral system), his comments only break the law if they interfere with the democratic process," Aras said. "Merely saying so is not a crime."

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The comments from Aras, who is responsible for prosecuting electoral crimes, suggest Bolsonaro faces few short-term legal risks for his broadsides against Brazil's electoral system, even as senior lawmakers and Supreme Court judges sound the alarm.

A far-right populist who casts his presidency after Trump's, Bolsonaro publicly backed the former U.S. president's baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. The former army captain raises similar doubts about Brazil's electronic voting system, calling it liable to fraud, without providing evidence.

He has attacked Supreme Court justices who oversee Brazil's elections for their defense of electronic voting machines and accused them of plotting to deny him a second term in office.

Bolsonaro's clashes with the judiciary have raised fears he might follow Trump's example, refusing to concede defeat to his leftist rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is ahead in opinion polls. read more

Brazilian Senate leaders are increasing their support of the judiciary as Bolsonaro intensifies his attacks this year, both in private meetings with Supreme Court justices and in public comments defending the electoral process. read more

But Aras said Bolsonaro's remarks have remained within the realm of protected free speech, just like Trump's. "It is the same thing, just political rhetoric."

He said he is confident Brazil's democratic institutions are strong and the election will run smoothly despite the highly polarized presidential race.

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Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Grant McCool

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