The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bolsonaro asks supporters to cease disruptive protests

While praising what he called a righteous expression of “indignation and a sense of injustice,” he said roads and highways should not be blocked

Supporters of defeated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrate Wednesday in front of the Eastern Military Command building in Rio de Janeiro. (Wagner Meier/Getty Images)

BRASILIA — Electoral authorities have declared Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva the winner of Brazil’s presidential election. The incumbent he bested, President Jair Bolsonaro, has allowed the transition to begin.

Jo Carvalho believes it’s time to call in the military.

“I would much rather live in a dictatorship than in a communist country,” the 63-year-old retired schoolteacher said. When the military ran Brazil’s government from 1964 to 1985, she said, “there was much more order, and things were calmer.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Nov. 2 asked truckers blocking roads in protest of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's election win to clear the blockades. (Video: Reuters)

“We would be much better off with them than with any [Workers’ Party] government,” she said.

Their candidate defeated, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters rallied outside army headquarters in the Brazilian capital on Wednesday to call for military intervention. Some said they wanted commanders to audit the vote Sunday to verify that Lula’s victory was legitimate. Others, claiming without evidence that the election was rigged or flawed, were demanding an outright coup.

“We don’t want a thief and a corrupt man as president,” said Cleuse Merlin, a 58-year-old teacher. “Just the thought of it makes me sick.” The military, she said, “are our last hope.”

Analysts said a coup was unlikely. The Superior Electoral Court announced the leftist Lula, a two-term former president, the winner of what authorities described as a clean election within hours of the polls closing Sunday evening.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro allowed a transition to begin Nov. 1 without conceding defeat to president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

The right-wing Bolsonaro emerged from a 45-hour post-election silence on Tuesday to thank his voters and say he would follow the constitution. He did not name Lula or concede defeat, but his chief of staff said he had been authorized to begin the transition. His vice president said “we lost the game,” and a justice said Bolsonaro had told the tribunal “it’s over.”

“The military will likely stay out,” said Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Rio-based think tank Igarapé Institute. “As they should, allowing civilian institutions to manage the process.”

“The military are being very pragmatic at this point,” said Guilherme Casarões, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “Most military officials are legalists in that they abide by the law. They are not going to stage a coup attempt or anything like that. This is not 1964.”

Bolsonaro doesn't concede loss to Lula but allows transition to begin

Supporters of the president have been blocking highways and roads across Brazil since Lula was declared the winner Sunday evening. For months, Bolsonaro had sown doubt in the integrity of the election system, laying the groundwork to contest a loss, and on Tuesday afternoon, he described their action as a righteous expression of “indignation and a sense of injustice.”

That was all the encouragement many bolsonaristas needed. They began gathering outside the army headquarters in Brasilia on Tuesday evening; more descended on military barracks in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba. Scores of highways, meanwhile, remained blockaded Wednesday.

But by Wednesday night, the president backtracked, urging his supporters to clear the highways and roads, arguing that the blockings are harming the economy and people’s right to move. He added, however, that protests taking place elsewhere were “welcome” as “part of the democratic game.”

“Brazilians who are protesting all over Brazil: I know that you are upset, sad, and that you expected something else — so did I. I am as upset and sad as you are. But we have to keep our heads on straight,” he said in a video posted on his social media accounts.

“Please, don’t think badly of me. I want you to be well. Let’s not throw this away. Let’s do what has to be done. I am with you, and I am sure you are with me. The request is: Highways. Let’s clear them for the good of our nation,” he added.

Lula won the second and final round of the election Sunday by less than two percentage points, the narrowest margin in a presidential vote here since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1985. For the lion of the Latin American left, the win capped a remarkable comeback. Less than three years earlier, he was serving a prison sentence for corruption and money laundering.

Lula was freed after more than 19 months when the Supreme Court ruled he had been denied due process. The charges were later annulled. Some Brazilians believe he was released on a technicality and remains guilty. He has maintained his innocence; supporters say he should never have been charged.

Bolsonaro hasn't conceded to Lula. Is he following the Trump playbook?

Authorities said the protests Wednesday were mostly peaceful. But at a roadblock in the southeastern city of Mirassol, a person allegedly drove a car into a group of people, injuring 15, four seriously, the São Paulo state security secretariat said. Videos on social media showed a gray car throwing people in the air and running over others. The alleged driver has been arrested.

In Brasilia Tuesday evening, families with small children sat on folding chairs, grilled meat and drank beer out of coolers. People wearing bright green and gold waved giant Brazilian flags. Some knelt in prayer around an evangelical pastor who called for divine intervention to “get the demons” out of the government and allow Bolsonaro to stay.

Dozens sang the national anthem: “It’s you, Brazil, O beloved homeland!”

Lucas Miranda, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, said he did not support a military coup. But he wanted the army to launch an “investigation” to verify the election was “clean and just.”

“I am Brazilian above everything else,” he said. “I am here for the love of my country, the constitution.” If the military certified the vote, he said, he would concede Lula’s victory.

Lula defeats Bolsonaro to win a third term as Brazil's president

The military agreed in September that it would audit a sample of the vote from the first round of the election Oct. 2. It has not announced a result of that review.

Miranda rejected comparisons between Bolsonaro and his ally, former president Donald Trump, who has yet to concede his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.

“Contrary to Trump, Bolsonaro never told us to wreak havoc, or impeach or invade anything,” he said. “We are not for violence or a coup. We just want the truth.”

Lula has largely ignored Bolsonaro and the protests.

“I am sure we will have an excellent transition,” he tweeted Tuesday after the president spoke. “We will build a government for all Brazilians.”

Analysts said the coming days could be crucial. If the protests grow, Casarões said, they could encourage Bolsonaro to action.

“If Bolsonaro sees he’s got massive support,” he said, “he’s probably going to inflame the situation.”

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