Brazil’s Bolsonaro vows to follow constitution, orders transition to Lula

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vowed to respect the constitution and authorized the government to start the political transition after his loss to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

While stopping short of formally conceding defeat, the brief remarks made by the president almost 48 hours after the election were seen by investors, analysts and the courts alike as enough of a gesture to lay to rest lingering concerns about a smooth transition of power.

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“I’ve always been labeled as antidemocratic but unlike my accusers, I’ve always played by the rules,” Bolsonaro said Tuesday at his official residence in Brasilia. “As president and a citizen, I’ll continue to follow our constitution.”

The president also called for pro-government protests that have blocked major highways across the country to be suspended, describing them as “leftist methods.”

Bolsonaro departed immediately after his two-minute speech, without mentioning his opponent or formally accepting Sunday’s loss.

It was up to his Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira to acknowledge the electoral defeat, saying the president had authorized him to formally begin the government transition.

Nogueira added they’ll wait for the incoming administration to formalize Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin as head of the process, with the idea of beginning it Thursday. Wednesday is a holiday in Brazil.

Brazil’s Supreme Court said in a statement that, “by ordering the beginning of the transition,” Bolsonaro acknowledged the final result of the election.

Formal Transition

The carefully staged speech by the right-wing leader often compared to Donald Trump is a major step to ensure an orderly handover of power in Latin America’s largest economy.

Lula, 77, won Sunday’s election by about 2 million votes, or less than 2 percentage points -- the narrowest margin in Brazil’s recent history.

Brazil’s real and Ibovespa stock index pared some gains after Bolsonaro ended his speech, but still closed higher. The currency strengthened 0.6 percent and the benchmark equity gauge rose 0.8 percent.

The country has been on a knife’s edge since Sunday night when the electoral court announced the official outcome of the runoff election.

While congress leaders, global figures like US President Joe Biden and many of Bolsonaro’s key allies were quick to congratulate the challenger, the conservative president remained out of the public eye.

Meanwhile, truck drivers and some of his staunchest supporters protested the result by blocking major roadways and snarling traffic around the capital Brasilia and large cities like Sao Paulo.

As of 6:35 p.m. local time, highway police had cleared almost 400 road closures, though blockades were still reported in states including Para in the North and Santa Catarina in the South.

While Bolsonaro did not explicitly recognize Lula’s victory, “the upside is that he said that he is going to play by the rules of the constitution,” said Deysi Cioccari, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo. “The unsaid is as important as what was said.

During his four years in power, Bolsonaro, 67, repeatedly cast doubt on Brazil’s electronic voting system, claiming that it could be rigged against him.

The accusations fueled concern at home and abroad of a contested result and unrest akin to the January 6 riots in the US Capitol.

The race was the most bitterly fought contest of the nation’s nearly four-decade old democracy, pitting a one-time army captain and populist against Lula, a two-term former president from Brazil’s left.

Diego Arguelhes, a constitutional law professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said it was important to take into account what Bolsonaro’s chief of staff said after the short speech -- that they will begin the transition.

“That’s enough of a concession to avoid personal liability for the blocked roads,” he said. “But it still fuels, to some extent, his narrative of electoral fraud and partial electoral judges. He portrays himself as a victim of the system, as usual.”

Read more: Trucker blockades in Brazil increase in wake of Bolsonaro election defeat

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