Bankers and business leaders say Brazil's democracy in 'grave danger'

FILE PHOTO: Setubal, CEO of Itau Unibanco attends the final session 'The Global Agenda 2015' in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos
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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Top Brazilian bankers and businessmen issued a letter on Tuesday in defense of Brazil's electronic voting system that has been attacked by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, and warned that the country's democracy was in "grave danger."

The manifesto, signed by some 3,000 leading Brazilian figures, did not mention Bolsonaro by name, but clearly addressed the situation he has caused by questioning the voting system ahead of the Oct. 2 election and attacking Supreme Court justices who oversee the elections in Brazil.

Their letter referred to "unfounded attacks" on the voting system, which Bolsonaro claims is vulnerable to fraud, and "insinuations" that the election results will not be respected.

It was signed by Roberto Setubal, chairman of Itau Unibanco, Walter Schalka, chief executive of pulp and paper multinational Suzano Papel e Celulose SA, Guilherme Leal, co-chair of cosmetic maker Natura & Co, among other business leaders.

Former central bank president Arminio Fraga and former finance minister Pedro Malan also signed, as did six former justices of Brazil's Supreme Court, and popular singer Chico Buarque.

Bolsonaro, who is trailing former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the polls, has frequently criticized the voting system and proposed that the armed forces be involved in counting the votes.

He has called for protests on Sept. 7 to back his allegations, less than a month before election day, raising fears that he will refuse to accept defeat and could try to trigger a coup or encourage a mob of supporters to take to the streets.

"We should now be at the height of democracy, with different political projects vying to convince voters which is the best direction for the country to take in the next few years," the manifesto said.

"Instead, we are facing a moment of immense danger for our democratic institutions and insinuations of contempt for the result of the elections," the letter said.

The signatories said Brazil's electronic voting system has been an example for the world, ensuring the election of alternating parties in power in a safe and reliable way.

"In today's Brazil, there is no more room for authoritarian setbacks," the letter said, recalling dictatorship and torture that Brazil suffered in the past under military rule.

Bolsonaro's chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, responding to the proclamation, said on Twitter bankers were upset with the president because he had established the independence of the central bank, and banks had lost more than 30 billion reais ($5.6 billion) in transaction fees due to a new system for electronic payments.

($1 = 5.3511 reais)

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Alberto Alerigi and Aluisio Alves in Sao Paulo; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Matthew Lewis)