After Lula victory, Brazil asks: Where’s Bolsonaro?

More than 24 hours after Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was declared Brazil’s next president, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has yet to address his electoral defeat, raising concerns the far-right leader could be planning to contest the results.

Da Silva, better known as Lula, narrowly bested Bolsonaro in Sunday’s second-round run-off, garnering 50.9 percent support compared with 49.1 percent for the former army captain.

While Lula struck a conciliatory tone — pledging to “govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me” — and world leaders congratulated him on his victory, Bolsonaro has yet to comment publicly or on social media.

Bolsonaro has spent months falsely claiming that the Brazilian electoral system was vulnerable to fraud, spurring fears that he planned to contest the results should he lose to Lula, as most polls had predicted.

In the past, Bolsonaro also has expressed admiration for Brazil’s former military regime, which ruled from 1964 to 1985, adding to concerns around the election campaign.

A senior staffer at Bolsonaro’s campaign headquarters said the president went unaccompanied from his official residence to the presidential palace on Monday morning, but he was declining meetings and calls even from his closest aides and political associates.

The presidential convoy with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is seen at Alvorada Palace in Brasilia on October 31, 2022 [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Reporting from the capital Brasilia, Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo said the heads of both chambers of Brazil’s Congress have accepted Lula’s victory while the director of the electoral tribunal said he spoke to Bolsonaro “and [said] that he is expected to accept the results”.

“But nobody knows when that is going to happen,” Bo reported on Monday, stressing that Bolsonaro had not yet conceded, nor had he called Lula. “We do hear, however, that some of his ministers are advising him to acknowledge this result,” she said.

Several media outlets reported that Bolsonaro was expected to speak later on Monday, but a cabinet minister told the Reuters news agency that he would not publicly address his loss until Tuesday.

Some of Bolsonaro’s closest allies have publicly acknowledged Lula’s victory, including Sao Paulo governor-elect Tarcisio de Freitas and Senator-elect Damares Alves, both of whom served as ministers under Bolsonaro.

“The will of the majority seen on ballots shall never be contested,” another ally, Lower House Speaker Arthur Lira, told reporters on Sunday. Evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, who has been a strident Bolsonaro supporter, also called for God to bestow his “blessing” on Lula.

His eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, also tweeted thanks to his father’s supporters and said: “Let’s raise our heads and not give up on our Brazil! God is in charge!”

Supporters of Bolsonaro block roads
Supporters of Bolsonaro block highway BR-251, in Planaltina, Brazil, October 31 [Diego Vara/Reuters]

Meanwhile, truckers and other protesters blocked highways in several Brazilian states throughout the day in an apparent protest against the defeat of Bolsonaro, who counted truckers as one of his key constituencies and was backed by major business interests.

​Trucks, cars and burning tyres blocked several points in the west-central farm state of Mato Grosso, a company that manages a highway in the state said, threatening to disrupt agricultural shipments.

Brazil’s Federal Highway Police (PRF) said truckers had partially or fully blocked roads in 16 states across the country. Video footage showed some truckers demanding “military intervention” and saying they would not accept Lula as president.

The highest number of blockades was in Santa Catarina, a state where Bolsonaro has an enormous support base, and Mato Grosso do Sul, an important grains-growing and cattle state, according to the PRF’s national branch.

Lula had criticised Bolsonaro on Sunday night for not acknowledging the result.

“Any place else in the world, the defeated president would have called me to recognise his defeat,” the president-elect said in his victory speech to a euphoric sea of red-clad supporters in Sao Paulo.

Lula had promised to reverse some of Bolsonaro’s most divisive policies, including by bolstering environmental and Indigenous protections after years of surging deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

But his first challenge will be to unite a deeply divided nation, experts have said. “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, one great nation,” Lula said on Sunday in his victory speech.

On Monday, Lula met with Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, who flew to Sao Paulo to meet the newly elected leader. Fernandez had hailed Lula’s victory as ushering in “a new era for the history of Latin America”.

United States President Joe Biden also spoke to Lula to congratulate him.

“President Biden commended the strength of Brazilian democratic institutions following free, fair, and credible elections,” the White House said in a statement describing the talks.

“The two leaders discussed the strong relationship between the United States and Brazil, and committed to continue working as partners to address common challenges, including combatting climate change, safeguarding food security, promoting inclusion and democracy, and managing regional migration.”

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