Since losing his re-election bid, Brazil’s outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro has disappeared from view, holed up in his official residence – and left the country uneasy with a power vacuum.
Nearly three weeks after losing to left-wing rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the far-right president — who was in office until Jan. 1 — has remained uncharacteristically silent, shunning official events and even his beloved social media accounts.
Critics have also speculated about why – is he grouchy? consumed by anger? – Vice President Hamilton Mourao finally gave an explanation on Wednesday: He said his boss had a skin infection known as erysipelas on his leg.
“He has a health problem. He can’t wear shorts. How can he come here in shorts?” Mourao told O Globo.
But the president’s office did not confirm the information, and Mourao’s statements seemed to leave room for doubt.
Not long ago, he told another newspaper, Valor, that Bolsonaro was in seclusion for a “spiritual retreat.”
Mourao seemed to believe the lame duck leader’s impeachment could last until the end of his term, amid reports Bolsonaro plans to travel abroad on inauguration day to avoid handing over the presidential mantle to Lula, as tradition dictates.
I’m not the boss. “I can’t be the one to hand over the mantle,” Moreau said.
Almost empty agenda
Bolsonaro’s retreat from public opinion began on the night of the runoff election, Oct. 30, when he lost by the narrowest margin in Brazil’s modern history — less than two percentage points.
He did not reappear until about 48 hours later, when he gave a curt speech saying he would respect the constitution—but did not concede defeat or congratulate Lula.
The leader of Latin America’s largest economy skipped the G20 meeting in Bali this week, leaving his vice president to fill traditional roles such as accepting credentials for new ambassadors.
Bolsonaro’s official agenda has been virtually empty, save for short, sporadic meetings — almost all of them in his official residence, not in presidential offices.
Once a vulgar presence on Twitter and Facebook, Bolsonaro has been virtually silent online, including the weekly live address he used to deliver directly to his base throughout his presidency.
With Brazilians wondering if “Tropical Trump” will try to make a comeback in four years, analyst Oliver Stoenkel said he views Bolsonaro’s silence as a strategic move.
“He cannot accept the (election) result openly, but at the same time he cannot openly question it, because that might make the electoral court punish him,” by stripping him of his right to run for office, Stoenkel told AFP. .
“Silence is the best solution.”
Stewinkel added that Bolsonaro was eager to encourage his hardline supporters, who have been protesting outside army bases since the election.
The protesters, who claim the election was stolen – without evidence – are urging the military to intervene to keep Bolsonaro in power.
Thousands took part in demos on Tuesday, which is a holiday in Brazil – although they are smaller on working days.
Online, speculation about why Bolsonaro has kept silent tends to be psychological.
Where is the wound that prevents Bolsonaro from working? on his leg? his ego? quipped one Twitter user.
Silvio Costa, founder of the news website Congresso em Foco, said Bolsonaro may have “a state of denial that has developed into depression”.
“This was Bolsonaro’s first electoral defeat” since he entered politics in 1988, first as a member of the Rio de Janeiro city council, and then as a seven-term congressman, Costa said.
He added that the president faces “dozens of investigations, lawsuits, and fears that he will be sent to prison.” I think Bolsonaro is lost.”
But he added that it was “totally unpredictable”, saying that Bolsonaro could “re-emerge with coup rhetoric and try to disrupt the formation of the new government as much as possible”.
Meanwhile, there are national security concerns about the apparent vacuum at the summit.
“One wonders if the president would be prepared to take action in a national emergency,” said Stewinkel.
After his time, Lula has sounded like a head of state, holding high-level meetings and traveling this week to the UN Climate Summit in Egypt, where he declared: “Brazil is back.”