Brazil's Bolsonaro expected to break silence after Lula victory

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro is set to break his silence following his defeat in Brazil’s presidential election, amid doubts over whether the far-right nationalist will accept the victory of his leftist rival, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro will speak to the nation later on Monday and his aides were suggesting he read a prepared statement, said Claudio Cajado, the head of a party allied to Bolsonaro. It was not clear if Bolsonaro would concede defeat, as Cajado said some advisers were encouraging him to do.

Lula’s win represents a stunning comeback for the 77-year-old former metalworker, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010 but then spent time in prison for corruption convictions that were later annulled.

Bolsonaro, who left his residence on Monday morning and headed to the presidential palace, has still not made any public comments. But prior to the vote he repeatedly made baseless claims the electoral system was open to fraud.

His eldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, tweeted thanks to his father’s supporters, and said: “Let’s raise our heads and not give up on our Brazil! God is in charge!”

Pro-Bolsonaro truckers blocked highways across Brazil to protest Lula’s victory, with some of them calling for a military coup. Truckers, one of Bolsonaro’s key constituencies, have been known to cause economic chaos in top food exporter Brazil when they shut down highways.

The roadblocks, which authorities said had reached 12 Brazilian states in the morning, had not yet disrupted grain exports but could do so if they continued, a key farm state lobby warned.

Lula has vowed to overturn many of Bolsonaro’s policies, including pro-gun measures and weak protection of the Amazon rainforest.

Environmentalists, world leaders and sustainable investors cheered Lula’s victory and his commitment to protect the rainforest and restore Brazil’s leadership on climate change.

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Even before he is due to take office on Jan. 1, President-elect Lula will send representatives to next month’s COP27 United Nations climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, allied environmentalist Marina Silva said on Monday.

In his victory speech on Sunday evening, Lula pledged to strongly police illegal logging, mining and land grabbing that have driven the surging destruction of the Amazon rainforest in the past four years under Bolsonaro.

Pitching the contest as a battle for democracy, Lula promised to unite his deeply divided country and celebrated what he called his “resurrection.”

“I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me,” Lula said at his campaign headquarters. “We are one country, one people, one great nation.”

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) declared Lula won 50.9% of votes, against 49.1% for Bolsonaro, who becomes the first Brazilian incumbent to lose a presidential election. (Graphic: Lula wins Brazilian election, )

Lula’s win consolidates a new “pink tide” in Latin America, and means the left will govern all the region’s major economies after a string of electoral successes from Mexico to Argentina in recent years.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez flew to Sao Paulo to meet the president-elect on Monday and hailed “a new era for the history of Latin America. A time of hope and future that begins today.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden moved quickly to congratulate Lula, calling the election “free, fair and credible.” Biden will speak with Lula later on Monday, the White House said.

Congratulations also poured in from other foreign leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

But Bolsonaro’s continued silence sparked fears over the handover of power.

The Bolsonaro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

International election observers said Sunday’s election was conducted efficiently. One observer told Reuters that military auditors did not find any flaws in integrity tests they did of the voting system.

Markets braced for a volatile week.

Brazil’s real currency gained more than 2% against the dollar, while the Bovespa was up 0.6% in choppy trading.

Lula’s win was a rebuke for the fiery far-right populism of Bolsonaro, who emerged from the back benches of Congress to forge a conservative coalition but lost support as Brazil ran up one of the worst death tolls of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lula has vowed a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped lift millions out of poverty during his two terms as president.

A former union leader born into poverty, Lula’s presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom and he left office with record popularity.

However, his Workers Party was later tarred by a deep recession and a record-breaking corruption scandal that jailed him for 19 months on bribery convictions, which were overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

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