The silent Bolsonaro leaves the Brazilian presidency



Outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has all but disappeared from view since losing his re-election candidate, holed up in his official residence – and left the country feeling uneasy about a power vacuum.

Nearly three weeks after losing to left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the far-right president -​​who will remain in office until January 1 – has gone unusually quiet on official events and even his beloved social media accounts avoided.

Experts speculated as to the cause – are they sulking? Consumed by anger? – Vice President Hamilton Mourao finally offered an explanation on Wednesday: His boss, he said, has a skin infection known as erysipelas on his leg.

“He has a health problem. He can’t wear pants. How could he come here in shorts?” Mourao told the newspaper O Globo.

But the President’s office did not confirm the information, and Mourao’s own statements seemed to leave room for doubt.

Shortly before, he told another daily, Valor, that Bolsonaro was in isolation for “a spiritual retreat.”

Mourao appeared to think the Lame Duck leader’s departure could last until the end of his term, amid reports that Bolsonaro plans to travel abroad on inauguration day to avoid Lula handing over the presidential sash will be as tradition dictates.

“I’m not the president. I can’t be the one to present the sash,” Mourao said.

Almost empty agenda

Bolsonaro’s retreat from public view began on the night of the October 30 runoff, when he lost by less than two percentage points, the narrowest in Brazil’s recent history.

He didn’t reappear until almost 48 hours later, when he delivered a terse speech in which he said he respected the Constitution – but neither conceded defeat nor congratulated Lula.

The leader of Latin America’s largest economy skipped the G20 meeting in Bali this week, leaving his vice president to take on traditional roles like accepting credentials of new ambassadors.

Bolsonaro’s official agenda was almost empty save for brief, sporadic meetings – almost all at his official residence, not the president’s offices.

Bolsonaro, once a brisk presence on Twitter and Facebook, has remained virtually silent even online, including the live weekly address he broadcast directly to his grassroots throughout his presidency.

“Injured Ego”

As Brazilians wonder if “Tropical Trump” will attempt a comeback four years from now, analyst Oliver Stuenkel said he sees Bolsonaro’s silence as a strategic move.

“He cannot explicitly accept the (election) result, but at the same time he cannot explicitly question it because the electoral court could punish him by depriving him of his right to vote,” Stuenkel told the AFP news agency.

“Silence is the best solution.”

Bolsonaro is keen to encourage hardline supporters who have been protesting outside army bases since the election, Stuenkel added.

The protesters, who claim the election was stolen – without evidence – are urging the military to intervene to keep Bolsonaro in power.

Thousands turned out for the demonstrations on Tuesday, a public holiday in Brazil – although they are smaller on weekdays.

On the internet, speculation about the cause of Bolsonaro’s silence tends to be psychological.

“Where is the wound that prevents Bolsonaro from working? To his game? His ego?” quipped one Twitter user.

Sylvio Costa, founder of news site Congresso em Foco, said Bolsonaro may have “a case of denial that has turned into depression.”

“It was Bolsonaro’s first electoral defeat” since he entered politics in 1988, first as a Rio de Janeiro city councilman, then as a seven-term congressman, Costa said.

The president, he added, “faces dozens of investigations and lawsuits and fears being taken to jail. I think Bolsonaro is lost.”

But he was also “completely unpredictable,” Costa added, saying Bolsonaro could “reemerge with a coup speech and try to disrupt the start of the new government as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, there are national security concerns over the apparent void at the top.

“One wonders if the President would be willing to take the necessary action in a national emergency,” Stuenkel said.

Bidding his time, Lula has looked a lot like a head of state, holding high-level meetings and traveling to the United Nations climate summit in Egypt this week, where he declared “Brazil is back.”

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