Guedes may have violated electoral law while campaigning for Bolsonaro, say experts


On the eve of the presidential race, the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, assumed the role of electoral corporal for Jair Bolsonaro (PL) attacking opponents, making promises for a new term and extolling the achievements of his administration.

Although campaigning is not prohibited, experts believe that the head of the economic team may have violated the electoral law and practiced an act of administrative impropriety when using the state structure and its position in the government to favor the candidate for reelection.

Since saying that he will continue in office in an eventual second term of Bolsonaro, Guedes has raised the tone of the campaign at events and meetings with businessmen. In recent weeks, in addition to associating ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) with the “capeta”, the minister promised to review the cut in funds in the Popular Pharmacy, to zero the IPI (Tax on Industrialized Products) and to maintain the Auxilio Brasil in BRL 600.

On Thursday (15), Guedes also used Voz do Brasil — a state program of mandatory broadcast — for 24 minutes to attack previous administrations and say that the country’s economy is growing, generating jobs and attracting investment.

Volgane Carvalho, secretary general of Abradep (Brazilian Academy of Electoral and Political Law), says that discrediting opponents and making promises is a political game; the problem is when public resources are used to maximize the strength and reach of the campaign.

The interview for Voz do Brasil, for example, he considers a clear irregularity, since Guedes used his status as minister of state to gain access to the vehicle — an opportunity that Bolsonaro’s opponents will not have.

“It is a mandatory program, repeated by all radio stations in the country. You are forcing that interview to be shown by all stations in Brazil. We clearly have something that unduly unbalances the electoral dispute, which would constitute an abuse of political power”, he says.

This is what Wallace Corbo, a professor at FGV Direito Rio, also thinks. He recalls that the legislation prohibits the publicity of government acts in the three months before the election. Therefore, the use of a public structure such as Voz do Brasil to extol the performance of the economy is a violation.

“It is clearly an abuse of political power and an electoral offense subject to a fine or possibly the cancellation of the ticket that benefited”, he says.

The episode can be framed in article 73 of the electoral law, which deals with conduct that affects equal opportunities between candidates. According to Corbo, transgressions to this provision still constitute acts of administrative impropriety for the use of the public machine — which applies to both Guedes and Bolsonaro.

Marcelo Weick, professor at UFPB (Federal University of Paraíba) and electoral lawyer, also sees room for a discussion on improbity, considering it a violation of the principles of impersonality and morality. “But it is not an electoral discussion. It would be up to the Public Ministry to question this in the Federal Court”, he says.

Weick assesses that the head of the economic team is using the state structure and government events to make campaign speeches, although he does not speak directly about asking for votes. In the Voz do Brasil episode, he also says that he can configure another electoral offense, referring to the misuse of the media.

Wanted late this Monday afternoon (19), the Ministry of Economy said it would not comment.

Attacks on Lula and campaign promises

In the opinion of experts, Guedes’ participation in extolling the Bolsonaro government in state programs is a clearer case of violation of the law. However, the minister’s presence in recent events with businessmen, in which he made attacks on Lula and promises for a new term, could also be an abuse of political power.

“In these episodes we’re going to have a bigger dissent. They’re not exactly official events, although he [Guedes] was speaking as a government representative”, says Volgane Carvalho, from Abradep.

This Monday (19), Guedes participated virtually in the 7th Brazilian Congress of the Machinery and Equipment Industry, where he praised the performance of the Brazilian economy and called those who make negative projections for the next year militants.

The minister also repeated the promise of zeroing the IPI in a new term and said that, after 30 years, the country is changing the axis of the economy, not to mention issues such as the increase in hunger and the fall in income from work during the pandemic. “We’re already on the road to prosperity, just don’t mess up and vote correctly,” he said.

Corbo, from FGV, says that the legislation does not prohibit this type of speech in private spaces, but the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) understands that there may be an eventual abuse of political power whenever the public agent uses his functional condition to benefit a candidate.

However, he points out that not every statement by a minister is synonymous with an electoral campaign, since he is a figure who effectively participates in the political debate.

“What we need to keep in mind is whether the speech of Minister Paulo Guedes in some spaces generates an imbalance of parity in the elections. If we reach the conclusion that he has privileged access to spaces for obtaining political support that other agents do not has […] it can have the configuration of an abuse of political power”, he says. “The issue is access. Electoral law is concerned with equal conditions to contest elections,” she adds.

Minister can campaign?

Jaime Barreiros Neto, a professor at the Faculty of Law at UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) and a judicial analyst at the TRE in Bahia, says that any citizen can express their appreciation or disapproval for any candidate — including ministers of State.

It is allowed to use the social network itself to campaign, participate in rallies and even ask for a vote directly. What it cannot, he says, is use the public machine for this purpose, using a ministry’s Twitter account or an official statement, for example.

According to Neto, invitations to private events where the official is only invited because he holds a certain position enter a more difficult area to define whether it is a violation or not. The same goes for statements that extol government achievements.

“The law is not very clear about this. It depends a lot on the interpretation of the TSE”, he says. “It’s a bit of a gray situation, but the greater tendency is to understand that authority is within your freedom”, he adds.

Like all the experts consulted, Neto does not recall that, in past presidential elections, the candidate for reelection was accused of using the state structure to campaign. According to them, this is something more common in municipal elections.

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