President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out Tuesday at electoral authorities for ordering an investigation of his campaign against Brazil's electronic voting system, saying he refused to be "intimidated" and that the country "is under attack."
The far-right president, who is up for re-election next year, has recently stepped up his long-time criticism of Brazil's voting system, claiming – without evidence – that it is riddled with fraud and insisting there will be no elections in 2022 if it is not overhauled.
Brazil's Superior Electoral Court said Monday it would investigate the president for abuse of office, improper use of official communication channels, corruption, fraud and other potential crimes in his attacks on electronic voting.
The country's highest electoral body also agreed to ask the Supreme Federal Court to investigate the president for spreading misinformation during a Facebook Live event last Thursday, in which Bolsonaro spoke for more than two hours about his conviction that there had been fraud in the last two presidential elections, saying he should have won in the first round in 2018.
The Electoral Court investigation will determine whether Bolsonaro committed "abuse of economic and political power, improper use of the media, corruption, fraud, conduct banned for public agents and extemporaneous propaganda in his attacks against the electronic voting system and the legitimacy of the 2022 general elections."
"I refuse to be intimidated," Bolsonaro fired back.
"I'm going to continue exercising my right to freedom of expression, to criticise, to listen to and above all answer to the will of the people," he told supporters outside the presidential palace. "I swore to give my life for the nation in case of foreign or domestic attack. Brazil is under internal attack."
Bolsonaro has long criticised electronic voting, introduced in Brazil in 1996.
He has stepped up his attacks in the build-up to the October 2022 elections, insisting on "printable and auditable" paper ballots as a backstop to the electronic system.
The outspoken leader has called the Superior Electoral Court's president, Luis Roberto Barroso, an "imbecile" for suggesting introducing a paper ballot could open the process to manipulation.
People in Brazil cast their ballots electronically at voting stations, and Bolsonaro has for years been arguing for a paper printout to be made of each vote cast, suggesting the absence of a paper trail makes cheating easier. He has not provided evidence of such fraud, and the Superior Electoral Court insists the system is transparent and has never been tainted by irregularities.
Last Sunday, thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in several cities, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, to support Bolsonaro's campaign against electronic voting, though the president did not take part.
Opinion polls place the 66-year-old leader well behind leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in next year's presidential race.
Bolsonaro is under fire on various fronts, including a Senate investigation into his government's widely criticised handling of Covid-19.
There are fears he could try to use fraud claims to undermine the election if he loses, following in the footsteps of former US president Donald Trump, to whom he is often compared.
On Monday, Barroso and all former court presidents since the country's constitution was ratified in 1988 signed a document guaranteeing the transparency and security of the electronic voting system.