Post-presidency, fate uncertain for Brazil’s brash Bolsonaro
BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Jair Bolsonaro told supporters that the future could only bring him three possibilities: arrest, death or a second term as Brazil’s president.
Neither of these results was fulfilled. And his October 30 loss to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva triggered two months of relative silence for the self-proclaimed standard-bearer of Brazil’s conservative movement.
Bolsonaro’s oft-cited motto is “God, family, homeland,” and as president he handed more power to the armed forces and relaxed gun restrictions. Many of Bolsonaro’s far-right supporters remain enslaved and have camped outside military buildings, pleading in vain for an army intervention that would keep the president in power.
But Bolsonaro authorized his chief of staff to preside over the transition process, and moving trucks have begun showing up at the palace and presidential residence. Personal items were seen being removed, especially artwork given away by supporters, including life-size wooden sculptures of Bolsonaro and a motorcycle.
Bolsonaro, a fringe lawmaker serving seven terms before winning his 2018 presidential campaign, has discussed having a salaried job in his Liberal Party, a party executive involved in the discussions told The Associated Press, asking not to be named because the plans have not been announced.
Bolsonaro addressed supporters in the capital Brasilia once after losing the vote, saying briefly that the armed forces were under his control. For the second time, he fell silent as patrons prayed for him.
Some supporters insist that Bolsonaro would not disappoint them by giving up the fight, but others have begun to walk away from important sites. According to Bolsonaro’s official daily schedule, he worked just over an hour each day from the election to December 23.
The Liberal Party will be the largest party in both the Lower House and the Senate. He has declared his opposition to the incoming Lula government and Bolsonaro is expected to lead the effort within the party, the party executive said.
But many of the members of the Liberal Party are not completely loyal to Bolsonaro or ideologically aligned with him, and will have incentives to work with the new administration, said Guilherme Casarões, a political analyst and professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. The Liberal Party considers itself centrist and is known for making deals with the sitting government.
“That makes it difficult to have the ideological fidelity that Bolsonaro likes to maintain,” Casarões said. “If he can’t get full control of the Liberal Party, we’re going to see a new split.”
Bolsonaro obtained 49% of the presidential votes, which fuels the possibility of a presidential candidacy in 2026 and makes him a possible help for the candidates in the municipal elections of 2024, said Eduardo Grin, a political analyst and professor at the Getulio Foundation. Vargas.
However, Grin noted that there is a history of strong Brazilian candidates failing to maintain support in subsequent years. And the governors of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, Brazil’s two most populous states, could be more palatable options for conservative voters.
The usual final act of outgoing presidents is the handing over of the presidential sash to his successor. Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to requests for comment on whether he will attend Lula’s inauguration.
The last time a president refused to hand over the band was in 1985, marking the end of two decades of military dictatorship in the nation and the return of democracy.
Either way, the inauguration will be a blow to Bolsonaro supporters, said analyst Mario Sérgio Lima of Medley Advisors.
“As his followers are used to radicalism, they expect a catharsis. When they see Lula’s swearing in, they will feel betrayed, as if he (Bolsonaro) had power in his hands and did nothing,” Lima said. “For them, it’s a sign of weakness.”
Bolsonaro also faces numerous legal threats. He is being investigated by the Supreme Court on suspicion of illegally spreading lies on topics including COVID-19 vaccines, Supreme Court judges, disclosing confidential information from an ongoing investigation and improperly interfering with the Federal Police. The Supreme Court is the only government body that can investigate a sitting president or federal legislator.
As of January 1, Bolsonaro will no longer enjoy the legal protection of incumbent leaders and could face new charges in lower courts. After lower courts convicted Lula of corruption and money laundering in 2018, he was deemed ineligible to run in that year’s presidential election and spent more than a year in jail. His convictions were later annulled on the grounds that he was tried in a court without due jurisdiction.
“But Lula had a whole party behind him to bring him back, and that is not the case with Bolsonaro,” Lima said, adding that Bolsonaro would have a hard time keeping allies fighting for his cause.
And any eventual conviction could jeopardize a potential 2026 career for Bolsonaro to return to his old job, on top of all the other challenges he faces.
“The political destiny of Bolsonaro and the extreme right in Brazil has more obstacles than it seems,” Grin said. “There will be more difficulties than facilities.”
Associated Press journalist Diane Jeantet contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.