Brazil transition takes shape, Bolsonaro keeps low profile

In this file picture taken on 16 January, 2018 Brazilian former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reacts during a meeting with artists at Oi Casa Grande Theater in Rio de Janeiro, BrazilAFP

The head of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s transition on Tuesday picked a team to smooth the leftist’s ascent to Brazil’s presidency, while outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro remained uncharacteristically silent after his election loss.

Lula’s vice-president-elect Geraldo Alckmin named a political council and a team of economists, among others, who will lay the groundwork for the changeover of government on 1 January.

“We are working, the future has already begun,” Lula wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Lula will meet with the leaders of both chambers of Congress in Brasilia to discuss budget issues as he looks to implement his campaign promises of increased social spending, while grappling with a struggling economy.

Lula, who will be serving a third term as president, is facing a far tougher outlook than the commodities-fuelled boom he presided over in the 2000s.

The economics team appointed by Alckmin includes economists Andre Lara Resende and Persio Arisa, who helped draw up a plan to halt hyperinflation in Brazil in the nineties.

‘A great sadness’

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has all but disappeared from public view and even his beloved social media accounts.

The far-right president responded to his defeat in the October 30 runoff election with nearly two days of silence as his supporters blocked highways in protest and urged the military to intervene to keep him in power.

Bolsonaro finally made a brief statement on 1 November, saying he would respect the constitution. However, he neither conceded defeat nor congratulated Lula.

He posted a video the following night, urging supporters to stop blocking highways—though he encouraged “legitimate demonstrations.”

The protesters largely acquiesced, though a handful of rogue roadblocks remain, as well as demonstrations outside military bases.

Bolsonaro, 67, has remained silent since.

According to his public agenda, he has been holed up at his official residence since 1 November, when he met with cabinet ministers.

Newspaper O Globo reported Bolsonaro was home with “health issues,” had a fever and appeared exhausted, citing sources close to the president.

Bolsonaro’s office did not immediately respond to questions about his health from AFP.

The leader of the president’s Liberal Party (PL), Valdemar Costa Neto, said Bolsonaro’s silence was “natural” given his narrow loss -- 50.9 per cent of the vote to 49.1 per cent, the tightest presidential race in Brazil’s modern history.

“When you lose an election like that, you feel it in your heart,” Neto told a news conference.

“It’s a great sadness.”

Enigmatic tweet

Bolsonaro has not posted to his usually bustling Twitter account since the runoff, except last Wednesday’s video and an enigmatic picture posted Tuesday, showing the president standing before a crowd of supporters, a Brazilian flag in the background.

Bolsonaro has even stopped giving his weekly live address on Facebook, one of the main communication channels he has relied on to speak to his base throughout his presidency.

The rest of the Bolsonaro clan has also been unusually quiet online since the election.

The day after, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, posted a message saying, “Dad, I’m with you no matter what.”

Sunday, he posted two other messages condemning alleged “censorship” of his father’s supporters on social media—a frequent complaint from the pro-Bolsonaro camp as Brazilian authorities have moved to block disinformation online.

Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, Flavio’s younger brother, meanwhile shared a post from new Twitter owner Elon Musk promising to “look into” claims that pro-Bolsonaro users’ accounts were unfairly suspended.