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Brazil’s Bolsonaro declines to concede defeat, but authorizes transition process

In first comments following vote, defeated president says he has ‘always played within the four lines of the constitution’ yet does not mention election results

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives to speak from his official residence of Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Nov. 1, 2022, the leader's first public comments since losing the Oct. 30 presidential runoff. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives to speak from his official residence of Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Nov. 1, 2022, the leader's first public comments since losing the Oct. 30 presidential runoff. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday did not concede the election he lost to leftist Lula da Silva in a brief speech that marked his first comments since results were released two days ago.

But afterward, Chief-of-Staff Ciro Nogueira told reporters that Bolsonaro has authorized him to begin the transition process.

Bolsonaro’s address didn’t mention election results, but he said he will continue to follow the rules of the nation’s constitution.

“I have always been labeled as anti-democratic and, unlike my accusers, I have always played within the four lines of the constitution,” Bolsonaro, flanked by more than a dozen ministers and allies, told reporters in the official residence.

Bolsonaro lost Sunday’s race by a thin margin, garnering 49.1% of the vote to da Silva’s 50.9%, according to the nation’s electoral authority. It was the tightest presidential race since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985 and marks the first time Bolsonaro has lost an election in his 34-year political career, including seven races for a seat in Congress’ Lower House.

Much like former US president Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro openly admires, the far-right incumbent has repeatedly questioned the reliability of the country’s electoral system, claiming electronic voting machines are prone to fraud. He never provided any proof, even when ordered to do so by the electoral court.

Elected president for the leftist Workers Party Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks after winning the presidential run-off election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 30, 2022. (NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)

That has led many political analysts to warn that Bolsonaro appeared to be laying the groundwork to reject election results.

In recent days, and without a public statement from Bolsonaro, truck drivers and other supporters of his blocked hundreds of roads across the country. Many said the election had been fraudulent and some called for military intervention and for Congress and the Supreme Court to be disbanded.

Earlier Tuesday, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the federal highway police to immediately clear the roads.

A majority of the court’s justices backed the decision, which accuses the highway police of “omission and inertia.” Failure to comply will mean its director can be fined up to 100,000 reais (more than $19,000) per hour, be removed from his duties and even face arrest. Federal prosecutors in Sao Paulo and Goias states said they had opened investigations into the blockades.

By noon Tuesday, highway police said they had removed 306 blockades, but more than 260 were still in place.

“There is no doubt that, even though he might not be directly responsible for these actions, everything he has done as president stoked this, especially questioning the electoral process and the ballots,” said Williams Gonçalves, a political science professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “Bolsonaro is completely isolated. Everyone responsible for other institutions has already recognized the election’s results.”

Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro block Castelo Branco highway, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on November 1, 2022. (Caio GUATELLI / AFP)

In Sao Paulo — Brazil’s most populous state and largest economy — traffic jams around the international airport led to dozens of flight cancellations, with videos on social media showing travelers rolling their suitcases along the highway in the dark trying to catch their flights. The highways had been cleared by Tuesday morning, but airport officials said access remained difficult as traffic was still backed up in and out of the airport.

Fears of escalation grew as the country’s leftist Landless Workers’ Movement, a key ally of da Silva’s that has long staged occupations of what it considers vacant or unused lands, asked its militants on Tuesday to organize demonstrations in several states to unblock roads.

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