MUCH to the surprise of many, outgoing Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has called on his supporters blocking roads and highways across the country since his October 30 election loss, to call off their actions and to stop breaking the law.
Truckers supporting him started blocking highways across states as soon as it was confirmed their man had lost, leading to the Supreme Court ruling the roadblocks illegal and ordering they be removed.
Other Bolsonaro supporters gathered at key locations in several states, including army headquarters, calling for military intervention because they claimed (and still do) that the elections were “stolen” for Lula.
As Bolsonaro had disappeared and wasn’t heard from after the results, had not congratulated Lula or conceded defeat, there was much anxiety that his national address would be his ultimate concession and acceptance, or he would have refused to concede and instead call his supporters out on the streets.
But in his two-minute address to the nation — 48 hours after the electoral officials confirmed his loss to popular ex-President ‘Lula’ Da Silva on Sunday evening — Bolsonaro did none of the above.
He didn’t concede, but nor did he contest the results, or congratulate Lula; and instead of urging supporters to protest, he told those blocking the highways they were breaking the law.
The brief speech said nothing the world press wanted to hear, but offered an early, unexpected hint that Bolsonaro had silently accepted his loss, him also confirming he’d given permission for the transition talks to start with ‘Lula’s’ team.
Bolsonaro’s quiet submission mused and marvelled many, as he sent very opposite signals than widely predicted by those who thought he’d live-up to his election threat not to accept a loss, especially after sealing his lips for longer than normal after the results.
Analysts of all stripes are still trying to figure out what to make out of Bolsonaro’s sudden and unusual unpredictability, but this is not the first time the blistering right-winger has silenced critics that way.
After he won the presidency four years ago, it was widely expected, even predicted, that Bolsonaro would have pulled Brazil out of the BRICS alliance, alongside Russia, India, China and South Africa.
But he attended more than one summit and was not once reported as having said or done anything to give truth to his critics’ predictions; and Brazil is still a member, even though less active than would probably have been under ‘Lula,’ who led South America’s largest and most populous nation with the region’s largest economy, into the BRICS, which together represent over half of humanity.
Bolsonaro obviously concluded it was better politics to have Brazil remain than withdraw under his watch, as he’d have seen that pulling out would be playing directly into the hands of ‘Lula’ and his powerful Workers Party (PT).
Likewise, Bolsonaro would have examined all the options on the table and concluded that rather than oppose ‘Lula’s’ election when everyone else who mattered had accepted, he would instead allow the winner to take his seat at the Presidential Palace – and then start playing hardball.
Lula won’t take office until January 1, 2023, and if Bolsonaro wanted to give him a rough squeeze during the transition, he wouldn’t have called on his trucking supporters to stop breaking the law – and spoiling his plan too early.
And it makes sense, because Bolsonaro is in a position to rough-up ‘Lula’ in the Congress, where the opposition has a majority, also with many state governors – and 49.1 per cent of the electorate.
‘Lula’s’ promised Amazon and environmental protection promises and most of the campaign promises and policies he intends to implement will naturally be opposed in the legislature – and President ‘Lula’ will virtually have to submit every proposal to the possibility of negotiation for support, which then opens the way for Bolsonaro’s conditional demands.
Keeping ‘Lula’s’ own multi-party governing alliance together will require that he tame and pace his policies somewhat, especially as the tight result leaves large space for the possibility of Bolsonaro seeking to swing the parliamentary balance by inviting members of the ‘Lula’ bloc to dump him, switch loyalty and gain special positions.
Like everywhere else, not engaging the Proportional Representation electoral system, never mind the closeness of the result, the party with the most seats – and not necessarily the most votes – wins the election; and likewise, the loser (or losing party) loses, no matter how many votes won.
Unfortunately, while the ‘First Past the Post’ system (based on ‘One Person, One Vote’) has its value as a democratic expression of how the people feel, it’s optional nature limits participation to only those who choose to vote, with those who didn’t, not counted in the mix, but at times enough to cause concern as to the end result being a total expression of how the electorate feels.
In some places, voting is mandatory — and ‘conscientious objectors’ resort to vengeful mechanisms such as spoiling their ballots, or simply leaving them blank.
But the most troublesome aspect of traditional electoral democracy is when two major parties have and win equal support, as, in most cases, the rift is so wide that each side tends to prefer to maintain the divisions, rather than find common cause to work together.
In such cases, regime change can be as often as day follows night, as the opposition is almost as strong in parliament as the winning party and, therefore, more likely to want to keep rolling their political dices until the proverbial Lucky Seven strikes.
Brazil is the latest of those cases and Bolsonaro has clearly opted to roll his dices as much in parliament as outside — and his incoming successor will certainly have to reach across the board in most cases, to get his policies implemented.
The stage is set for interesting times, as the world keeps focused on Brazil for the rest of this year, this time not for Carnival or Football, but expecting political manifestations of both.