Brazil’s far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro was barred from running again until 2030 on Friday after a jury concluded he had abused his power and cast unfounded doubt on the country’s electronic voting system.

The decision changes the 68-year-old’s political future and is likely to wipe out any chance he has of regaining power.

Five judges of the country’s highest electoral court agreed that Bolsonaro used government communication channels to promote his campaign and sow distrust in the vote. Two justices voted against the move.

“This decision will end Bolsonaro’s chances of being president again and he knows it,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo. “After that, he will try to stay out of jail, choose some of his allies to maintain his political capital, but it is very unlikely that he will ever return to the presidency.”

The case focused on a meeting on July 18, 2022, where Bolsonaro used government employees, the state television channel and the presidential palace in Brasilia to tell foreign ambassadors that the country’s electronic voting system had been rigged.

In her deciding majority vote, Justice Carmen Lucia – who is also a Supreme Court judge – said “the facts are beyond dispute”.

“The meeting did take place. It was called by the then president. Its contents are available. It was examined by everyone and it was never denied that it actually took place,” she said.

Alexandre de Moraes, also a Supreme Court judge, said the decision represents a rejection of “populism reborn from the flames of hateful, anti-democratic speech that propagates vile disinformation”.

Speaking to reporters in Minas Gerais, Bolsonaro lamented that the trial was unfair and politically motivated.

“We will talk to the lawyers. Life goes on,” he answered when asked what his next step would be. He called the verdict an attack on Brazilian democracy. “It’s quite a difficult moment.

Melo said the decision is “highly unlikely” to be overturned. It disqualifies Bolsonaro from municipal elections in 2024 and 2028, as well as from the general election in 2026. The former president also faces other legal challenges, including criminal investigations. Future felony convictions could add years to his ban and land him in prison.

Former president Fernando Collor de Mello and current president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have been declared ineligible in the past, but Bolsonaro’s case is the first time a president has been suspended for election violations rather than a crime. Brazilian law bars candidates with criminal convictions from running for office.

Lula’s eligibility was restored by Brazil’s highest court after ruling that then-judge and now-senator Sergio Moro was biased when he sentenced the leftist leader to nearly 10 years in prison for corruption and money laundering.

Maria Maris, a 58-year-old engineer in Rio de Janeiro, celebrated the verdict, although she said she suspected it may have been politically motivated.

“I fear that Bolsonaro will appeal and run in the next presidential election, even though he was ineligible today,” Maris said.

Bolsonaro holds a ceremonial leadership role in his Liberal Party and has toured Brazil criticizing Lula, who won last October’s election by the narrowest margin in more than three decades.

Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings on January 8 – a week after Lula took power – in an attempt to oust the left from power. The rapid imprisonment and prosecution of hundreds of those involved had a chilling effect on their rejection of the election results. Federal police are investigating Bolsonaro’s role in fomenting the uprising; he denied any wrongdoing.

The president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said on her social networks that Bolsonaro’s incapacity offers a teachable moment.

“The far right needs to know that the political struggle is taking place within the framework of the democratic process, and not through violence and threats of a coup,” she said. Bolsonaro “will be out of the game because he doesn’t respect the rules. Not only him, his whole gang of coup plotters must go the same way.”

The trial, according to Maria Santini, coordinator of NetLab, a research group at the Federal University, renewed Bolsonaro’s base online as his supporters claimed he was a victim of an unfair justice system and compared his fate to that of former US President Donald Trump. Rio de Janeiro, which monitors social networks.

But that engagement pales in comparison to levels before last year’s polarizing election.

Katie Caminha, a 67-year-old retiree in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana district, broke down when she heard the news that the majority of judges had voted against Bolsonaro. She told The Associated Press that she thought the whole process was a “clown show.”

“Everything to do with the electoral court is biased and against” Bolsonaro. “This is terrible news for Brazil,” Caminha said.

This week, his supporters showed their continued support with contributions that helped him pay 1.1 million reais (about $230,000) in fines imposed by the Sao Paulo state government for Bolsonaro’s repeated violations of health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Bolsonaro aims to be king of the right and his support will carry considerable weight, his decision to retreat to Florida for a few months early in Lula’s term weakened him, said Thomas Traumann, a political analyst. This is reflected in the limited outcry from the right on social media during the eligibility process and no sign of protests.

“There’s not going to be a mass movement because he’s shrunk. The fact that he went to Florida and didn’t lead the opposition made him shrunk,” Traumann said. “The leader of the opposition is clearly not Bolsonaro.”

As the trial drew to a close, a trumpeter outside the electoral court played the song that became a sensation during last year’s presidential race: “It’s time for Jair to go.”

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