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Bolsonaro’s silence creates uneasy tension in Brazil

Brazilians are waiting uneasily for President Jair Bolsonaro to break his silence after his election defeat to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula.

On Sunday, Brazil’s electronic voting system churned out a same-day result in the second round of the presidential election between both men, handing a slim but decisive victory to the left-leaning Lula.

Brazil’s electronic voting system has been internationally praised for its accuracy and speed. As the national voting system since 2000, its results have never been significantly contested.

The far-right Bolsonaro, who had threatened not to recognize any result that didn’t hand him reelection, was AWOL on Monday.

“The joke here is already the first important accomplishment for Lula is to have Bolsonaro be quiet for 16 hours,” said Pedro Abramovay, director of the Latin America program at Open Society Foundations.

Still, Bolsonaro’s closest political allies, some of whom had their own election victories to protect, quickly recognized the election results.

Arthur Lira, the president of the Chamber of Deputies – a position roughly equivalent to speaker of the House – congratulated Lula on Sunday night.

“The will of the majority manifested in the ballot boxes should never be contested and we will move forward in building a sovereign, just and less unequal country,” wrote Lira, a close Bolsonaro ally.

Robert Wood, chief economist and country risk specialist for Latin America at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), pointed to Lira and São Paulo state Governor-elect Tarcísio de Freitas – known as Tarcísio – as key Bolsonaro allies who quickly recognized the results.

“This reduces the room for Mr. Bolsonaro to launch a credible dispute of the vote tally. He is an unpredictable figure all the same, so we still can’t rule this out,” said Wood.

Still, Wood said EIU experts expect “Bolsonaro to break his silence later [Monday].”

Bolsonaro’s bombastic style led to many comparisons with former U.S. President Trump, a parallel that could still come true, though not necessarily in the form of a January 6-style revolt.

Although Bolsonaro is unpredictable and prone to threatening extra constitutional approaches, he has built significant political capital during his tenure as president.

Though he lost by more than two million votes to Lula, Bolsonaro outperformed expectations in the first round of presidential voting, forcing Sunday’s runoff where he obtained 49.1 percent of the valid votes to Lula’s 50.9 percent.

And he united a significant conservative power base in Brazil’s richest states, like São Paulo, where his former Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio bested the Lula-backed Fernando Haddad by more than 10 percentage points.

Those wins, and a constitution that allows reelection – Lula is returning for a third four-year term after serving two consecutive terms from 2003 to 2010 – mean Bolsonaro could have more to lose by fighting the election results than by rallying his base a la Trump during a Lula presidency.

“Bolsonaro was expecting to win and had long railed against the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system — his silence suggests he is letting the dust settle before adopting a new stance in the circumstances of his defeat,” said Wood.

“If he does go ahead with a high-profile dispute it could put his political rights at risk and he could be eyeing a return in 2026 —with little hope of overturning the result, the costs would outweigh the benefits,” he added.

Although Brazil remained mostly calm Monday, some pro-Bolsonaro truckers staged highway blockades in some areas of the country.

In a tweet, Bolsonaro’s son Flavio, a senator from Rio de Janeiro, remarked that Bolsonaro had received more votes than in any previous election, mirroring a boast Trump often repeats about the 2020 election.

“Thank you to everyone who helped us rescue patriotism, who prayed, took to the streets, gave their sweat for the country that is going in the right direction and gave Bolsonaro the biggest vote of his life! Let’s raise our heads and let’s not give up on our Brazil! God in charge!” wrote Flavio Bolsonaro.

With a deeply divided country, the table is set for Bolsonaro to stay at the forefront of Brazilian politics even having lost the election.

“It was an election where [people were] either with Lula or with Bolsonaro, and he had 49 percent of the vote,” said Abramovay.

“I think he has all the conditions to be the leader of the opposition.”

Still, both leaders – Lula as president and Bolsonaro as former president – will be the heads of larger multi-party big tent movements, both of which could face pressures to splinter.

Bolsonaro could quickly see center-right allies in his party gravitate toward Lula, according to Abramovay.

“Half of its members are fully aligned with Bolsonaro … some others, they will support any government that gives them the material conditions to do so,” said Abramovay

And Lula, 77, has pledged to not seek reelection for a fourth term in 2026, setting off an anticipated battle for succession that could pit members of his government against each other.

Still, Lula will at least start his third term with a strong mandate, as he remains popular in Brazil despite corruption scandals that exploded after his first presidency, and he has strong international support.

The Biden administration quickly congratulated Lula for his victory on Sunday, a move that adds to pressure on Bolsonaro to recognize the results.

“I urge Bolsonaro not to join the ranks of authoritarian wannabes around the world in challenging the election results,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said on a call with reporters Monday.

This story was updated at 3:55 p.m.

Tags BRazil Brazil election Jair Bolsonaro Jair Bolsonaro Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva robert wood Trump

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