Brazil’s political ‘transition has begun’ after days of tension

Protests, highway blockages by Jair Bolsonaro backers lose steam as government transition talks held in Brasilia.

pro-bolsonaro protesters gather in brasilia
Protests by supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro have been held in several Brazilian cities since Sunday's election results were announced, but they are losing steam [Diego Vara/Reuters]

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s team has met outgoing leader Jair Bolsonaro’s camp to discuss the country’s political transition as pro-Bolsonaro protests and highway blockages have started to fizzle out.

Lula’s Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, a former Sao Paulo governor tapped to lead the transition process, held talks with Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, on Thursday in the capital, Brasilia.

“The conversation was very fruitful, very objective,” Alckmin said during a news conference. “The transition has begun … As Lula said in his victory speech, our task is to unite Brazil. So here we go.”

The head of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), Gleisi Hoffmann, and the transition team’s technical coordinator, Aloizio Mercadante, were also present.

Nogueira had told reporters this week that Bolsonaro had “authorised” the transition. The far-right leader said on Tuesday that he will respect Brazil’s constitution, but he stopped short of conceding the election or congratulating Lula on his victory in Sunday’s run-off.

Lula, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010, secured 50.9 percent of the vote compared with 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro. He is the first sitting Brazilian president to lose a re-election bid in Brazil’s post-dictatorship era.

Bolsonaro had remained silent for nearly 48 hours after the results were announced, raising concerns that the former army captain could be planning to contest the results.

For months, he had falsely claimed Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud, and rights groups and international observers had warned against any anti-democratic actions should Bolsonaro lose to Lula, as most polls had predicted.

But many of Bolsonaro’s top allies quickly recognised Lula’s victory and world leaders also congratulated Brazil on holding “free, fair and credible elections”.

“All of Bolsonaro’s escape valves were shut off,” Brian Winter, a longtime Brazil expert and vice president of the New York-based Council of the Americas, told The Associated Press. “He was prevailed upon from all sides not to contest the results and burn down the house on his way out.”

Nevertheless, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters have taken to the streets this week to protest the vote. Many called on the Brazilian armed forces to intervene to stop Lula from taking up his post on January 1.

Truckers, a key Bolsonaro constituency, have blocked key roads across the country, especially in the outgoing president’s strongholds of Santa Catarina and Mato Grosso.

geraldo alckmin
Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin will lead the government transition for Lula’s team [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Protesters were partially or fully blocking highways in 76 locations in eight of the country’s 26 states as of Thursday morning, down from 126 previously, according to Brazil’s Federal Highway Police.

Access to the port of Paranagua, one of the most important for Brazil’s grain exports, was no longer blocked on Thursday morning, authorities also said.

Bolsonaro late on Wednesday urged his supporters to end the blockades, saying in a video on social media that the demonstrations were legitimate but the roadblocks were restricting people’s right to come and go and hurting the economy.

“Everyone is suffering from the closed roads. I ask you to clear the roads and protest elsewhere,” Bolsonaro said. He had previously said the protests were the result of “indignation and a sense of injustice” about how the vote was carried out.

Alckmin, the Vice President-elect, had harsh words on Thursday for the protesters’ road blocks, which had threatened to create economic havoc. “It’s extremely serious to compromise people’s health, supplies to hospitals, vaccines, food, fuel. Who’s going to pay the damages?” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies