Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the media after the final presidential debate ahead of the country’s runoff elections at the TV Globo Studio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Oct. 28.MARIA MAGDALENA ARRELLAGA/The New York Times News Service
In Brazil’s capital on Monday, the silence was deafening.
Nearly a full day after President Jair Bolsonaro lost his bid for re-election, the usually brash right-wing leader had neither conceded defeat nor challenged the results of the country’s closest political contest in more than three decades.
Mr. Bolsonaro hadn’t spoken a word to reporters camped outside the official residence or the supporters who regularly gather nearby. Nor did he post on his otherwise prolific social-media platforms.
The only sign of protest came from Bolsonaro-supporting truckers who on Sunday started blocking roads across the country. By Monday night, the Federal Highway Police reported 236 incidents in 18 states, up from 136 three hours prior to that.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s rival, former president and left-leaning ex-union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won the runoff Sunday night with 50.9 per cent of the votes, to Mr. Bolsonaro’s 49.1 per cent. It was the closest election since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985.
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Ricardo Barros, Mr. Bolsonaro’s whip in the Lower House, told Associated Press by phone that he was with the president Monday and that Mr. Bolsonaro was “still deciding” whether to speak about the election’s results.
Much like former U.S. president Donald Trump, whom Mr. Bolsonaro admires, the outgoing Brazilian leader has repeatedly questioned the reliability of the country’s electronic voting system. At one point he said he possessed proof of fraud, though he provided no evidence. And as recently as last month, he remarked that if he didn’t win in the election’s first round, something was “abnormal” — even as most polls showed him trailing.
As time passes and an increasing number of international leaders publicly recognize Mr. da Silva’s victory, the president’s room for dispute is dwindling, experts told Associated Press.
Some of Mr. Bolsonaro’s closest allies indicated the same.
“The will of the majority seen on ballots shall never be contested,” Lower House Speaker Arthur Lira told reporters Sunday.
Other Bolsonaro supporters who publicly acknowledged Mr. da Silva’s win include Sao Paulo governor-elect Tarcisio de Freitas and Senator-elect Damares Alves, both of whom served as ministers under Mr. Bolsonaro, and Lower House whip Mr. Barros. Evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, who has been a strident Bolsonaro supporter, called for God to bestow his “blessing” on Mr. da Silva.
“He must have several plans for how to contest the results of the polls; the question is whether he has the political support to go ahead with these plans,” said Paulo Calmon, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia. “He won’t have the support of Sao Paulo’s governor, of the Lower House, Senate, and he will have to face opposition from everyone.”
Prof. Calmon added that Mr. Bolsonaro had recently said during an interview last month that he would accept the result even if he lost, but that congratulating Mr. da Silva would hurt his popularity among his most radical base.
Abroad, U.S. President Joe Biden was among the first world leaders to salute Mr. da Silva, highlighting the country’s “free, fair, and credible elections.” By contrast, Mr. Bolsonaro took more than a month to congratulate Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory against Mr. Trump.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador invited Mr. da Silva to visit Mexico at the end of November for the Pacific Alliance summit. The Workers’ Party leader responded he had to wait for Mr. Bolsonaro to admit his defeat before accepting the invite, according to a video of the exchange.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro has his own potential legal concerns. He is one of the targets of a Supreme Court inquiry into the spread of fake news and a Senate investigation recommended that he be charged with crimes for his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Brazil’s Independence day last year, Mr. Bolsonaro told a cheering crowd that only God can remove him from office, then continued: “For all of us, there are only three alternatives, especially for me: arrested, dead or victorious. Tell the scoundrels I’ll never be arrested!”
The high-stakes election was a stunning reversal for Mr. da Silva, 77, whose imprisonment for corruption sidelined him from the 2018 election that brought Mr. Bolsonaro, a defender of conservative social values, to power.
“Today, the only winner is the Brazilian people,” Mr. da Silva said in a speech at a hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. “This isn’t a victory of mine or the Workers’ Party, nor the parties that supported me in the campaign. It’s the victory of a democratic movement that formed above political parties, personal interests and ideologies.”
Mr. da Silva has promised to govern beyond his party. He wants to bring in centrists and even some leaning to the right who voted for him for the first time, and to restore the country’s more prosperous past. Yet he faces headwinds in a politically polarized society and is likely to face strong opposition from conservative lawmakers.
Thomas Traumann, an independent political analyst, compared the situation to Mr. Biden’s victory: Mr. da Silva, like the U.S. President, is inheriting an extremely divided country.
“People are not only polarized on political matters, but also have different values, identity and opinions,” Mr. Traumann said. “What’s more, they don’t care what the other side’s values, identities and opinions are.”
The election in Latin America’s biggest economy extended a wave of recent leftist victories in South American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Colombia.
Mr. da Silva’s inauguration is scheduled to take place on Jan. 1. He last served as president from 2003-2010.
Mr. da Silva’s inauguration is scheduled to take place on Jan. 1. He last served as president from 2003-2010.re helped tens of millions join the middle class.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years. But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values and presenting himself as protection from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil. And he shored up support in an election year with vast government spending.
“We did not face an opponent, a candidate. We faced the machine of the Brazilian state put at his service so we could not win the election,” Mr. da Silva told the crowd during his acceptance speech in Sao Paulo.
But Mr. da Silva is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption revealed by sprawling investigations. His arrest in 2018 kept him out of that year’s race against Mr. Bolsonaro, a fringe lawmaker at the time who was an outspoken fan of Mr. Trump.
Mr. da Silva was jailed for 580 days for corruption and money laundering. His convictions were later annulled by Brazil’s top court, which ruled the presiding judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors. That enabled Mr. da Silva to run for the country’s highest office for the sixth time.
Mr. da Silva has pledged to boost spending on the poor, re-establish relationships with foreign governments and take bold action to eliminate illegal clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest.
On social media, one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, who served as a co-ordinator on his father’s campaign, thanked supporters and told them to keep their heads up and “don’t give up on Brazil.”