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Fact check: Bolsonaro's pre-election claims

Astrid Prange
August 30, 2022

"The economy is growing and the pandemic has been overcome," Brazilian President Bolsonaro says. But are things really going that well? DW investigates his three biggest claims.

President Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle praying at the “March for Jesus” on Aug. 13 in Rio (Photo:AP/Bruna Prado)
"Pray for Brazil:" President Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle at the "March for Jesus" on August 13 in Rio.Image: Bruna Prado/AP Photo/picture alliance

Is Brazil's economy immune to COVID?

Claim: "By global standards, Brazil has come through the pandemic relatively unscathed." (Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on the Flow podcast, #89, 3:52 - 3:58, Aug. 8, 2022)

DW fact check: Misleading.

Bolsonaro's statement refers exclusively to the economic consequences of the pandemic. He said it during a five-hour conversation on the August 8 episode of the ”Flow" podcast. Released on various social media outlets, it has more than 14 million views to date.

A screenshot of Brazilian President Bolsonaro during his Flow podcast interview
Bolsonaro during his lengthy appearance on the Flow podcast in early AugustImage: Youtube/Flow Podcast

Understandably, Bolsonaro wants to deliver good news before the first round of elections on October 2. But the fact is that the pandemic has taken a toll on the country. According to the World Bank, after low growth of 1.2% in 2019, the economy plunged into recession in 2020, dropping by 3.9%. In 2021, the situation improved, with growth picking up by 4.6%.

These developments have also been reflected in the ranking of the world's largest economies. Between 2010 and 2014, Brazil ranked seventh. In 2020, it slipped to 12th place, and in 2021 to 13th, according to Brazilian credit rating agency Austin Rating.

But the economy is recovering. After the increase in economic growth in the first four months of this year, the country returned to the top 10 largest economies. Unemployment is also declining, although it remains high. According to the IBGE statistics office, the figure fell from 14.2% in the second quarter of 2021 to 9.3% in the second quarter of 2022.

Conclusion: The pandemic was a hard blow economically, but the situation in Brazil is slowly improving.

Deflation or inflation?

Claim: "Now that we are seeing the largest price declines in nearly half a century, those who have attacked me for inflation are warning about the risk of a low index."

DW fact check: False.

In an August 9 tweet, Bolsonaro used monthly inflation statistics to celebrate the "biggest price cuts in almost the last 50 years." At first glance, he appears to be right: Inflation in the month of July was negative, at -0.68%, according to the country's IBGE statistics institute.

Protest against inflation in Sao Paulo
"Everything is expensive! It's Bolsonaro's fault." Protesters at the stock exchange in Sao Paulo.Image: Amanda Perobelli/REUTERS

But the extremely low rate in July 2022 is just a snapshot. Inflation in the past twelve months totaled 10%, with prices climbing by 4.77% between January and July.

Experts believe that inflation will continue in the near future. Austin Rating's chief economist Alex Agostini told Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo that he predicted an overall inflation of 7.8 percent for September. "We should not be misled. The deflation in July was based on tax breaks," he said.

Brazil has longstanding expertise in fighting inflation, however. Fifty years ago, in 1972, inflation totaled 15.7 percent. By 1982, it had reached just over 100 percent, and by 1990, the country was suffering hyperinflation of more than 1,000 percent a year.

After President Fernando Henrique Cardoso took office (he was president from 1995 to 2003), rates declined and stabilized in the single digits, thanks to the successful Plano Real program. In 2017 Brazil achieved its lowest inflation rate in the past 50 years, at 2.95 percent.

Conclusion: Only after the accumulated inflation of 2022 has been determined will it be clear whether Brazil can truly celebrate the biggest price drop in almost half a century.

Electronic voting machines in Brazil
Brazil has had electronic ballots since 1996Image: Abdias Pinheiro/SECOM/TSE

Dispute over digital ballot boxes

Claim: "The vote count must be public. If it's conducted behind closed doors in a treasury, it's not public."

DW fact check: False

According to the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), the country is the world's fourth largest democracy, with 156 million eligible voters. It is also the only country in the world where the official results are already announced on election day.

The reason? Digitization of the electoral process, with voting carried out by electronic ballot since 1996. Unlike the period before 1996, there have been no cases of electoral fraud in Brazil in the past 25 years, the TSE says.

Vote counts begin in the electronic ballot box, which tallies the numbers and sends them to the regional electoral courts. All results are automatically forwarded to the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court site. The electronic ballot boxes also print out a record of the results at the end of each voting round.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the security of the electronic vote countand called for the Brazilian armed forces to oversee the process and count the votes in parallel. This has fomented doubt among voters.

Brazilian Superior Electoral Court (TSE) president Alexandre de Moraes
Minister Alexandre de Moraes, president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), has promised secure elections.Image: Antonio Augusto/Secom/TSE

To counter the president's accusations, the TSE established a Commission for Electoral Transparency (CTE) with civil society representatives in Sept. 2021. Military officers from the Ministry of Defense are also on the commission.

Additionally, there is information sharing with cybersecurity experts from the Brazilian Armed Forces, with the military also among the election observers registered by the TSE. The Brazilian Ministry of Defense, led by General Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira, assured in a statement that the "deployment of the military, both in the Transparency Commission and in the control of the electronic electoral system, strictly follows the norms established by the TSE."

Conclusion: Bolsonaro's claim that electronic voting isn't secure is false. 

DW's Brazil desk contributed to this report.

This article was originally written in German. 

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