By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil's Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) decided on Monday to open an investigation into far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for his statements claiming there will be fraud in next year's elections.
Bolsonaro, who is expected to seek a second term in 2022, has repeatedly said Brazil's electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud.
Critics say Bolsonaro, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, is sowing doubts with his unfounded claims in order to pave the way for him not to accept defeat in 2022.
The TSE also decided to ask the Supreme Court to investigate whether Bolsonaro committed a crime by attacking the electoral system on social media and threatening Brazil's democracy.
The TSE voted to investigate Bolsonaro after he accused the court's members of complicity in maintaining a voting system that would help former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva return to power.
Bolsonaro is calling for the adoption of printed receipts that can be counted if any election result is disputed, a paper trail that would change the current all-electronic voting system. Bolsonaro has said he might not accept the result of next year's presidential election if the system is not changed.
Over the weekend, supporters of the president held demonstrations in several cities backing his proposal.
Earlier on Monday, a group of 18 active and former Brazilian Supreme Court justices, who also serve as judges on the TSE, said the election system is free of fraud.
"Brazil has eliminated a history of election fraud," the judges said in a statement, saying that since the electronic voting system was adopted in 1996, there has never been a documented fraud case in any election.
"The electronic voting system is subject to audits before, during and after the election," they said. The judges said all the steps are monitored by political parties, prosecutors, federal police, universities and the Brazilian Bar Association.
The judges said printed ballots are less safe than electronic voting, and that if Brazil goes back to manual counting of 150 million printed ballots, the chance of fraud would be higher.
A congressional committee will vote Thursday on a proposal pushed by Bolsonaro to introduce paper ballots.
The government solicitor general's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the TSE decision.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Leslie Adler)