A tense Brazil awaited Jair Bolsonaro’s next move Monday, as the far-right incumbent remained silent after losing a razor-thin runoff presidential election to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who now faces a tough to-do list.
The country now faces two long months until inauguration day on January 1, after Bolsonaro’s defeat by Lula with a score of 51 percent to 49 percent — the tightest race since Brazil returned to democracy after its 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Fresh off a huge victory party that capped a remarkable political comeback, ex-president Lula — now president-elect — faces the less-pleasant business of a messy, high-risk transition process.
Bolsonaro’s radio silence after the polarizing election Sunday left Brazilians on edge, after months of the ex-army captain alleging election fraud and a supposed conspiracy against him.
Lula criticized his nemesis for not acknowledging the result.
“Anyplace else in the world, the defeated president would have called me to recognize his defeat. He hasn’t called yet. I don’t know if he will,” he said in his victory speech to a euphoric sea of red-clad supporters in Sao Paulo.
The lights went out at the presidential residence in Brasilia Sunday night with no word from the leader, who is often compared to former US president Donald Trump.
“Lula will have to watch out… for any challenge Bolsonaro and his allies make to delegitimize his win and mobilize his supporters, like Trump in the United States” after his 2020 election loss, said political scientist Paulo Calmon of the University of Brasilia.
– Narrow win –
But with some key Bolsonaro allies — including the speaker of Congress Arthur Lira — acknowledging the incumbent’s defeat, the president did not look to have strong backing in the halls of power to challenge the result.
Lula said he would work to heal a nation wounded by a bitter campaign.
“We’ll have to dialogue with a lot of angry people… This country needs peace and unity. The Brazilian people don’t want to fight anymore,” the ex-metalworker said, his gravelly voice even raspier than usual at the close of a grueling campaign.
Easier said than done, according to political analysts.
“It was a very narrow victory… (that left) half the population unhappy. Lula will have to show a lot of political skill to pacify the country,” said political scientist Leandro Consentino of Insper university in Sao Paulo.
“The worst thing that could have happened Sunday was for Brazilians to go to sleep without the president saying anything. It casts doubt over whether he’s going to accept the result,” he told AFP.
– ‘Immense’ challenge –
The win was a stunning turnaround for Lula, who left office in 2010 as the most popular president in Brazilian history when he was imprisoned for 18 months on since-quashed corruption charges.
But he is hated by many Brazilians for the economic crisis and massive corruption scandal that marked the end of 13 years in power for his Workers’ Party, which crashed to a close when hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016.
Now Lula returns to office — an unprecedented third term at the age of 77 — facing a political and economic landscape that look far more hostile than in the 2000s.
Bolsonaro’s far-right allies scored big victories in legislative and governors’ races in the first-round election on October 2, and will be the largest force in Congress.
And the global economic situation looks nothing like the commodities “super-cycle” that allowed Lula to lead Latin America’s biggest economy through a watershed boom.
Lula has acknowledged his tough to-do list.
“The challenge is immense,” he said, citing a hunger crisis, weak economy, bitter political division and rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Lula will face “strong” opposition, and possibly street protests, said political analyst Adriano Laureno of consulting firm Prospectiva.
“He’ll take office amid a possible global recession” and difficult economic decisions at home, Laureno told AFP.
“It will be very hard to remain popular,” he said.
– Hope for climate fight –
All eyes in Western capitals have been on the election’s impact on the future of the Amazon and the global climate emergency.
In his nearly four years in power, climate skeptic Bolsonaro became a frequent target of criticism from environmentalists over his support of lumber and mining companies blamed for destroying the rainforest, with Lula’s win raising hopes for change.
Norway, which halted Amazon protection subsidies to Brazil in 2019, will resume its collaboration with Brasilia following Lula’s victory, the Scandinavian country’s environment minister told AFP Monday.
“We note that during the campaign (Lula) emphasized the preservation of the Amazon forest and the protection of the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon,” Espen Barth Eide said, adding that the Amazon rainforest preservation fund currently has 5 billion Norwegian kroner (about $482 million).
Although Lula’s own environmental record is hardly spotless, activists say that under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon soared.
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