Bolsonaro’s Silence a Day After Vote Loss Has Brazil on Edge

(Bloomberg) -- President Jair Bolsonaro is keeping silent over his loss in Sunday’s election until Tuesday, leaving Brazilians wondering whether he will concede defeat to his old foe Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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Bolsonaro didn’t make any public comments Sunday night after the electoral court said he’d lost the vote to Lula by less than 2 percentage points, the narrowest margin for a presidential election in the country’s modern history. Local press reported that the president went to sleep past 10 p.m., and on Monday morning was taken via motorcade from the official residence to the government palace in Brasilia.

He is unlikely to make a speech tonight, according to two government officials familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because the discussion isn’t public. Newspaper Valor Economico reported that the president may acknowledge the result of the election in a written message on Tuesday.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao sent a text message to Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin saying he’s ready to help in the transition of government in what concerns the vice presidency, O Globo newspaper reported.

Speculation is growing in Brazil’s capital about the president’s next moves and television networks have arranged cameras around different government buildings in case Bolsonaro decides to break his silence. The president on Monday has met with his Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira and some other ministers and advisers as well as his oldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.

In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Flavio Bolsonaro thanked his father’s supporters and said they wouldn’t give up on Brazil, without specifically referring to the outcome. Columnist Lauro Jardim wrote in O Globo newspaper that the president will not contest the election’s result but will criticize the electoral process, citing an unidentified government minister.

Read More: Lula Edges Out Bolsonaro to Win Presidency of Divided Brazil

While his decision to not immediately recognize the result isn’t a complete surprise given his long history of attacks against Brazil’s electoral system, it’s hardly a sign that the institutional framework of the country is about to be derailed. The heads of the country’s senate and lower house quickly accepted the election results on Sunday night along with the supreme court justices and some of Bolsonaro’s closest allies.

“He’s going to keep working normally through the end of his mandate,” said Tarcisio de Freitas, a former infrastructure minister under Bolsonaro who was elected governor of Sao Paulo state.

Yet the president’s silence can hurt the transition process. By law, Brazil’s government needs to organize a formal handover process right after the vote, with the president-elect allowed to nominate 50 people to meet officials and exchange government information. The outgoing administration typically coordinates with the team of the next president during the following two months so there is a smooth transition when the new government takes over Jan. 1.

If Bolsonaro decides not to accept the results, it would halt “the traditional government transition process that starts right after the election,” Rio de Janeiro-based political analyst Thomas Traumann wrote in a note Monday. “Bolsonaro will use the next two months to handicap Lula’s administration from the beginning.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian assets have largely shrugged off initial concerns, with stocks of companies expected to benefit from Lula’s presidency rallying on Monday after the election while the real reversed earlier losses to post the biggest gain among the world’s major currencies.

Read More: ‘Lula Basket’ Jumps, Real Leads Global Gains After Brazil Vote

Pro-Bolsonaro truck drivers have blocked some highways in about a dozen states in protest of Lula’s election win, according to local media, although their protest was disavowed by the fedederation of truckers.

While a strategy to try to discredit the election “is unlikely to yield a favorable result for Bolsonaro, that can be a tactic to keep his base mobilized to oppose a Lula administration,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a report.

(Updates third paragraph with information about Bolsonaro unlikely to make speech tonight.)

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