Rio de Janeiro — Thousands of President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters called on the military Wednesday to keep the far-right leader in power, even as his administration signaled a willingness to hand over the reins to leftist rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The president’s defenders gathered in the rain outside the Eastern Military Command in Rio de Janeiro, one of the army’s eight regional headquarters, many of them raising clenched fists in the air as they brandished Brazil’s green-yellow-and-blue flags and sang the national anthem. Some chanted, “Armed forces, save Brazil!” and “United, the people will never be defeated!”
Meanwhile, truck drivers who for days have to protest were still out in force, despite a Supreme Court order to dismantle them.
The protests came amid international recognition of da Silva’s victory and a recommendation from the Brazilian Supreme Court that Bolsonaro accept the results of Sunday’s election. Cabinet members, governors-elect and evangelical leaders who have been strident supporters of Bolsonaro are now offering overtures to the incoming leftist government.
The military has taken on an ample role under Bolsonaro, but has remained silent in the month since the first round of the election, a sign it is likely distancing itself from the ex-army captain, experts told The Associated Press.
“In a democracy, the armed forces do not have a say in the electoral process,” said Eduardo Munhoz Svartman, president of the Brazilian Association for Defense Studies. “This silence is desirable.”
Bolsonaro lost to da Silva in a nail-biting contest, garnering 49.1% of the vote to da Silva’s 50.9%. It was the tightest presidential race since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, and marks the first time Bolsonaro has lost an election in his 34-year political career.
The outgoing president took nearly two days to address the nation, and there had been speculation that he might fight the result after repeatedly questioning the reliability of the country’s electoral system before the election.
In a speech at the presidential residence lasting less than two minutes on Tuesday, he stopped short of conceding to da Silva, but said he would continue to obey the constitution. He also encouraged protests by his supporters, as long as they remained peaceful.
Immediately afterward, his chief of staff told reporters Bolsonaro had authorized him to begin the process of handing over power, while later in the day the president reportedly told members of the Supreme Court that his election battle against da Silva had come to an end.
“It is over. So, let’s look ahead,” he said, according to Supreme Court Justice Luiz Edson Fachin, who met privately with the conservative leader. Fachin made his remarks in a video broadcast by Brazilian news outlets.
Much like former U.S. President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro openly admires, he has claimed that electronic voting machines are prone to fraud. He hasn’t provided any proof, even when ordered to do so by the electoral court.
Many of his supporters are also questioning the results, and truckers who back the president have erected hundreds of blockades around the country to protest the election’s outcome. On Wednesday morning, highway police said that they had removed 630 blockades, with more than 150 still in place.
At one roadblock in Sao Paulo state on Tuesday, protesters set tires on fire. Huge lines of cars could be seen snaking along the highway. In Itaborai, a region in Rio de Janeiro state, an Associated Press reporter saw truck drivers kneeling in front of police officers and refusing to evacuate.
Sao Paulo Gov. Rodrigo Garcia said Tuesday that the time for negotiations was over, and he was not ruling out the use of force to dismantle the barriers.
But Bolsonaro supporters continued to resist. Users on social media, including in multiple Telegram and WhatsApp chat groups, shared demands that the military take the streets, or that Congress and the Supreme Court be disbanded and the president remain in office.