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Former President Jair Bolsonaro talks to reporters after arriving at the airport in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 30.Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a Brazilian journalist based in Belgium.

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s recent ineligibility ruling by the Superior Electoral Court has been met with mixed emotions. While it serves as a significant milestone in addressing his abuse of political power, it falls short of the comprehensive accountability needed for his actions during his tenure. Mr. Bolsonaro’s relentless attacks on democratic processes, disregard for the pandemic’s gravity, and involvement with armed militias and far-right fanatics who attempted a coup on Jan. 8 have put Brazilian democracy at risk. Despite these challenges, Brazil’s institutions have displayed resilience and must be preserved as the pillars of a functioning democracy.

The decision to declare Mr. Bolsonaro ineligible to run for office until 2030 must be viewed as a partial reckoning. Behind the scenes, he still commands a fervent following and retains a considerable electoral base. There are even speculations about his wife being nominated as a candidate in his place in the next presidential elections.

Mr. Bolsonaro finds himself caught for actions that may be less consequential than the crimes he allegedly committed throughout his four-year tenure. By five votes to two, Mr. Bolsonaro was convicted of lying and attacking the electoral system at a meeting in July last year with foreign ambassadors at the official presidential residence.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s actions during his presidency have been marred by numerous controversies coupled with constant vilifying of journalists, particularly female journalists, and the press who did their job of reporting and denouncing the series of crimes practised by the then-president.

While listing these alleged crimes can help shed light on Mr. Bolsonaro’s transgressions, it is essential to recognize that the decision of whether he should be arrested lies with the legal system. The legal process must be fair, transparent and uphold the principles of justice. It is through this process that Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies should be held accountable for their actions, ensuring that no individual is above the law.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s ineligibility should serve as a starting point to secure Brazil’s democracy, but it must be accompanied by a comprehensive investigation into his alleged crimes. If found guilty, he and his allies should face the appropriate legal consequences, ensuring that justice is served.

At the same time, efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and promote transparency should be intensified. This includes bolstering the independence of the judiciary, safeguarding press freedom and reinforcing electoral systems. Additionally, fostering civic education and promoting inclusive political participation can empower citizens to engage actively in the democratic process.

But Mr. Bolsonaro cannot go free to command thousands or even millions of fanatics willing to invade the centre of Brazilian power, commit acts of vandalism and try to overthrow the legitimately elected government. Nor is it possible to accept that Mr. Bolsonaro continues to be a reference for the largest party in the Brazilian Congress, the Liberal Party (PL), and dictates the direction of an entire political field as if his four years in power had respected the rules of the democratic game.

Brazil needs to undergo an immediate process of deradicalization. Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters must face the consequences of their crimes and democracy must be safeguarded after having withstood for years a series of attacks unprecedented since redemocratization in 1985.

Never has the country been so close to seeing its democracy destroyed. Mr. Bolsonaro’s defeat at the polls, while demonstrating that Brazil still favours democracy, does not mitigate his alleged crimes and clear limits must be set on the use of political power by the president, by any president. The lack of accountability, whether by actions or by speeches and words, ends up opening the door to further abuses and anti-democratic attitudes. Now, if Mr. Bolsonaro’s insistent defence of military dictatorship and practices such as torture go unpunished, Lula da Silva, the current president, has no reason to worry when he defends foreign dictatorships, such as those of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela or Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua – or even Vladimir Putin. As soon as democracy is relativized by one, it can also be taken for granted by all the others.

The ineligibility ruling against Jair Bolsonaro represents a significant step toward addressing his abuse of political power. However, it is crucial to recognize that it falls short of the comprehensive accountability required for his actions during his presidency. Mr. Bolsonaro’s attacks on democratic processes demand further investigation and legal consequences. Only by preserving and strengthening its democratic institutions can Brazil ensure that no individual is above the law and that the voice of the people remains the cornerstone of its democracy.

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