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Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina Marcello

Brazil Senate leaders offer support for courts facing Bolsonaro attacks

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco looks on during a session of the Federal Senate in Brasilia Brazil February 11, 2021. Picture taken February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Brazilian Senate leaders are stepping up support for the judiciary as it comes under fresh attack from President Jair Bolsonaro, who is gearing up for a re-election campaign by questioning the integrity of a voting system run by the courts.

The far-right president, who is trailing in the presidential race, has called the country's electronic voting machines vulnerable to fraud without providing evidence. That has raised concerns that he will not concede defeat if his leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva prevails in this October's election.

Supreme Court justices, who say the voting system they oversee is secure and transparent, have asked the Senate to offer more public support for the democratic institutions under fire from Bolsonaro, people involved in the talks told Reuters.

A group of senators has arranged meetings between lawmakers and senior justices, successfully pressing Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco to take a more forceful public stand, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss private meetings.

"It is unbelievable that in 2022, with all the problems the country faces, we still have to defend democracy from these attacks," Pacheco tweeted on Friday.

That was the latest public result of the informal task force of senators and justices mounting a shared defense of Brazil's electoral process, several of whom gathered on Wednesday at a dinner hosted by Senator Katia Abreu, sources said.

"I will not leave the Supreme Court isolated," Pacheco told several Supreme Court justices at the dinner, according to a senator who was present.

Pacheco has also met formally in recent weeks with the head of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), Justice Edson Fachin, and said publicly there was no reason to doubt the electronic voting system overseen transparently by the courts.

In the lower house of Congress, Speaker Arthur Lira has also defended the integrity of electronic voting urns used in Brazil for the past two decades. However, the senators and judges discussing the matter informally have not engaged Lira as directly, given his close working relationship with Bolsonaro.

(Reporting by Maria Caroloina Marcello and Ricardo Brito in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Matthew Lewis)

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