Elections in Brazil: Bolsonaro, the Trump of the Tropics, did not recognize Lula’s victory
“Beginning [Monday] I need to know how we are going to manage this country”, Lula he told supporters late Sunday. “I need to know if the president we defeated will allow the transition to happen.” He is due to take office in January.
On Monday afternoon, Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo reported that Bolsonaro’s allies had drafted a concession speech, which the president is expected to deliver on Monday. The content of the speech was unclear; Bolsonaro was expected to claim he was a victim of injustice, but would not dispute the results.
However, as of Monday evening, Bolsonaro still had not spoken, even as his supporters set up 200 roadblocks in 18 states and observers warned of the potential for further unrest. In Telegram groups, Bolsonaro’s supporters called for the occupation of more highways, avenues and entrances to military barracks on Tuesday.
Federal highway police – close allies of Bolsonaro who on Sunday reportedly slowed down voting in areas heavily supported by Lula – said they had sent forces to the protests. But amid claims they failed to respond, federal prosecutors sought more information about their response.
As tensions rose and Bolsonaro’s intentions remained uncertain, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, the country’s top election official, issued a request that police use “all necessary measures” to unblock highways.
On Monday, Brazilian senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, wrote on Twitter: “Dad, I’m with you in good times and in bad.”
For many here, Bolsonaro’s delay is no surprise. The president, his sons and supporters spent months laying the groundwork to challenge the defeat with unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud. Bolsonaro summoned foreign diplomats in July to cast doubt on electronic voting, and last week claimed that national law had been broken because radio stations had given Lula more airtime during the campaign.
Electoral authorities dismissed all these claims as fictitious and declared Sunday’s elections safe and valid. If anything, irregular checkpoints set up by police linked to Bolsonaro in loyalist Lula territory on Sunday appeared to be delaying voters from going to the polls.
Having followed much of Trump’s playbook during his rise to power and in power, analysts say, Bolsonaro could do the same in defeat: refuse to concede, declare Lula’s presidency illegitimate and use his hardline base to play power broker as he prepares for the next election .
“This is the Trump model,” said Marcos Nobre, a political analyst and writer. “That is to say, the one who won the election is illegitimate. Bolsonaro will try to weaken Lula in every way.”
His loss comes as the specter of criminal investigations looms over him and his family.
Although Bolsonaro resisted recognizing the results, the world accepted him. Bolsonaro took months to acknowledge President Biden’s victory in 2020 — and appeared to question his legitimacy as recently as June. “I will not discuss the sovereignty of another country,” Bolsonaro told reporters. “But Trump was doing very well.”
Biden quickly threw Washington’s support into Lula’s corner, publicly congratulating the 77-year-old left-wing icon shortly after his victory on Sunday and speaking with him by phone on Monday.
“President Biden praised the strength of Brazil’s democratic institutions after free, fair and credible elections,” the White House said in a statement. “The two leaders discussed the strong relationship between the United States and Brazil and pledged to continue working as partners to address shared challenges, including combating climate change, preserving food security, promoting inclusion and democracy, and managing regional migration.”
Other leaders rallied around Lula. Argentine President Alberto Fernandez was due to meet with Lula on Monday in Brazil. Lula’s “victory opens a new era in the history of Latin America.” A time of hope and a future that begins today,” Fernández wrote on Twitter. “Here you have a partner to work with and dream big for the benefit of our nations.”
Bolsonaro, like Trump, has a fan base. Some supporters began blocking Brazil’s highways late Sunday, demanding that he refuse to budge. Police reported an increasing number of roadblocks on Monday morning.
They included one of the country’s main highways, connecting Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s largest metropolitan areas. Military police in Brasilia said on Monday they had closed roads leading to key government buildings in the capital after identifying “possible demonstrations” scheduled for the area that are spreading on social media.
One congressman who represents truckers said that roadblocks are the work of “criminals who do not represent that category.” “The parliamentary group of independent truckers does not support any kind of demonstration against the outcome of the election!” Nereu Crispim tweeted. After Sunday’s results, the Rio Grande do Sul lawmaker said democracy had won and “hate had lost.”
The company that manages highways in the state of Mato Grosso said at least four sections of the road were blocked. “Lula will not be our president,” says one woman in a video published by O Globo.
There are a number of options for Bolsonaro. Does it hold firm, demand a review of the vote, and spark a constitutional crisis a la Trump 2020? Or, since his conservative movement has fared better than expected, is he consolidating a strong position as Brazil’s most powerful opposition leader since the return of democracy – using his massive social media platform as a bully pulpit to complicate Lula’s job? Or, as some suggest, is he leaving Brazil to avoid the possibility of prosecution?
Close aides described Bolsonaro as “sad and disappointed” and said he expressed outrage at the result, Brazilian media reported. TV Globo suggested that the president’s allies, fearful of squandering an impressive conservative turnout that left them without a victory on Sunday, were pressuring the president to concede the result as soon as possible.
In public, his closest circle, however, mostly remained mum. But some of Bolsonaro’s allies encouraged him to confess. “It’s time to disarm the spirit, reach out to your opponents,” said House Speaker Arthur Lira. “We reaffirm fairness, stability and confirmation of the will of the people. We cannot accept revanchism and persecution from any side. Now is the time to look forward.”
Moraes, the top election official, told reporters late Sunday that he had called both candidates before the winner was announced to inform them of the election result. Bolsonaro, as he said, responded “extremely politely”.
You have to he described the election as clean and secure, and insisted there was “no real risk” that the results could be challenged. “This is part of the rule of law,” he said.
“There has been a lot of polarization and now it is more up to the winners to unite the country,” he said.
“Three hours after voting closed and with almost 99% of the ballots counted, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was mathematically elected president of Brazil, with more than 50% of the vote,” said Attorney General Augusto Aras, who critics say protected Bolsonaro from corruption investigations, according to a statement on Sunday evening.
Sergio Moro, the prosecutor’s judge who sent Lula to prison on charges that were later overturned, was later named Bolsonaro’s justice minister and is now, after the row, an elected senator, said: “This is democracy.”
“We work for the unity of those who want the good of the country,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will always be on the side of what is right! I will be in the opposition in 2023.
One of Bolsonaro’s strongest allies, evangelical pastor Silas Malafaja, recognized “the will of the sovereign people.”
“My prayer, as the Bible says, is to plead for constituted authorities,” he tweeted. “God save Brazil from social, political and economic chaos.”
Others demanded that Bolsonaro reject the results. Carla Zambelli, the pro-Bolsonaro lawmaker who pointed a gun at an unarmed black man after a political row in Sao Paulo on Saturday, congratulated the truckers on the roadblocks. She shared a video of protesters burning tires to block a highway in the state of Goiás. “Stay, don’t fade,” she tweeted last night as the protests began.
Trump, in a video statement before the election, supported Bolsonaro as “one of the great men in all politics and in all leadership of countries.”
“There is no possibility that the result of the electronic ballot boxes is accurate,” former Trump strategist and Bolsonaro supporter Stephen K. Bannon told Folha de São Paulo. “We need a vote-by-vote review, even if it takes six months. In the meantime, the president should not agree to leave.”
There are legal avenues to challenge the election, says Luiz Carlos dos Santos Gonçalves, a federal prosecutor and expert on Brazilian electoral law. But all would be judged by the Supreme Electoral Court, which has already declared the elections valid.
Bolsonaro could seek an audit of the ballot boxes and a recount, as happened in the 2014 race, when Aécio Neves challenged then-president Dilma Rousseff’s victory. The court agreed to the revision, provided that his party bears the costs. The audit concluded that there was no evidence of miscalculation or fraud.
Bolsonaro could also seek to have his opponent’s candidacy annulled based on, for example, accepting illegal donations or other violations. Some types of claims must be submitted prior to the winner registration ceremony on December 19th. Others can be submitted up to 15 days after that.
With the court already declaring Lula the winner, Gonçalves said, the challenges are unlikely to succeed. “Maybe he will propose it, but it will be difficult for him,” he said.
When Lula takes office, he will contend with a Senate and House of Representatives where his supporters are in the minority and a country where the most prosperous and powerful states — including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — are run by governors allied with the incumbent.
Yet in Brazilian politics, centrist MPs, tempted by backroom deals and backroom deals, almost always side with the winner. With their support, Lula just doesn’t seem to be able to provide a regular supermajority for major initiatives like tax reform, but should fairly easily secure the kind of coalition needed to avoid gridlock.
“At the end of the day, we don’t have a scenario where the government is going to be a lame duck from the start,” said Mario Braga, a senior Brazilian risk control analyst.
Yasmeen Abutaleb in Washington contributed to this report.
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