Police accused of suppressing Lula vote in Brazil election

Members of Brazil's Federal Highway Police at the agency's headquarters in Brasilia on Friday. [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Brazil’s most bitterly fought election since the collapse of the military dictatorship descended Sunday into allegations of police attempting to suppress the vote in regions supportive of presidential challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The Federal Highway Police, an organization closely allied with the right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, allegedly set up roadblocks to delay voters in the country’s impoverished northeast and other centers of support for Lula, a former president. Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court said Sunday night that Lula had received about 51 percent of the vote, defeating Bolsonaro.

Silvinei Vasques, director of the highway police, earlier posted a call to vote for Bolsonaro on Instagram, according to the newspaper O Globo. It was later deleted. Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues, a Lula supporter, demanded his immediate arrest. Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, Brazil’s chief electoral authority, ordered Vasques to stop the operations immediately or face personal fines of nearly $100,000 per hour.

Later Sunday, however, Moraes sought to calm concerns of a broader effort that could taint the vote. He said each incident would be investigated, but police had complied with the demand to cease the operations. He said checkpoints had delayed, but not prevented, voters from casting their ballots, and he would not extend voting hours beyond the planned 5 p.m. close.

“The damage caused to the voters was a delay during the inspections,” Moraes said. “There was no prejudice to the right to vote and, logically, there will be no postponement of the end of voting. … There is no need to overstate this issue. There were no cases where voters went home.”

Despite the statement from Moraes, who has frequently locked horns with Bolsonaro, Lula’s Worker’s Party demanded an extension of the polls in the 560 places where it said the “illegal” police operations had taken place. The party called for prioritizing extensions in the northeast, where it said the operations were carried out “with greater intensity.”