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Brazil election 2022

Towels with the images of Brazilian presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are seen for sale on a street in Brasília, on September 27, 2022. (Photo: Everisto Sa/AFP via Getty Images)

Brazilian Left Alleges Voter Suppression as Police Highway Stops Soar 80% on Election Day

"I don't want to believe that it's an orchestrated action for the people not to go to vote," said one mayor, "but it's happening at this exact moment, in the middle of Election Day, in a blitz by the Highway Patrol."

Brett Wilkins

As Brazilians vote in Sunday's presidential runoff, democracy defenders are sounding the alarm over what many observers claim is widespread voter suppression by federal police in an attempt by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to steal the election.

"We are facing a clear attempt to curtail people's right to vote. This only happens in dictatorships."

The campaign of Workers' Party (PT) challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva asked Brazil's Superior Electoral Court (TSE) to subpoena Silvinei Vasques, director-general of the Federal Highway Police (PRF), amid videos, photos, and reports—especially in the Northeast, a PT stronghold—of officers blocking highways and stopping buses transporting voters to polling places.

On Saturday, Alexandre de Moraes, who heads the TSE, banned PRF from conducting any operations relating to public transport until after Sunday's election. However, according to PRF figures reviewed by The Brazilian Report, routine vehicle searches soared by 80% Sunday compared with October 2, the date of the first-round vote.

De Moraes said Sunday that none of the voter bus surveillance operations—which, according to PRF involved traffic code violations—prevented people from voting, although he said there were delays in getting to the polls.

However, PT politicians and supporters pointed to reporting by journalist Lauro Jardim claiming the PRF operation was planned at Bolsonaro's residence earlier this month, and a since-deleted Instagram post in which Vasques urged his followers to vote for Bolsonaro, as evidence of something more nefarious.

"I don't want to believe that it's an orchestrated action for the people not to go to vote, but it's happening at this exact moment, in the middle of Election Day, in a blitz by the Highway Patrol at the entrance to Cuité," Charles Camaraense, mayor of Cuité, a town of 20,000 inhabitants in the interior of the northeastern state of Paraíba, said on social media.

Camaraense described the action as a "blitz inhibiting people from going to vote... this is absurd what is happening."

Sen. Humberto Costa (Pernambuco-PT) tweeted that "the illegal action orchestrated by the PRF in the Northeast was articulated in Jair Bolsonaro's own residence to prevent northeasterners from voting in the second round."

"We are facing a clear attempt to curtail people's right to vote," he continued. "This only happens in dictatorships."

Costa added: "So far, they have not been able to explain why the Northeast, which has 27% of the electorate, has received 50% of the PRF's operations today. While the Southeast, which has 42% of the electorate, only received 8% of PRF operations."

PT leader Gleisi Hoffman, who represents the state of Paraná in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil's Congress, tweeted that "this PRF operation was criminal."

"We are asking for an extension of voting in the more than 500 places where the operations took place. Prioritizing the Northeast region," she added. "Elections are won by voting, not by coups and crime."

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