In Brazil, tight election and calls of 'fraud' shut down airports and highways in huge protests

Brazil's unsettling election, where leftist Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva won by one percentage point over conservative incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, often described as Brazil's version of Donald Trump, pretty well is leading to protests -- and they're big.

According to Reuters:

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian authorities said on Wednesday they are making headway in their efforts to clear blockades set up across the country by truckers to protest President Jair Bolsonaro's narrow loss to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in an Oct. 30 runoff election.

Brazil's Federal Highway Police (PRF) said protesters were blocking highways partially or fully in 156 locations as of Wednesday morning, down from around 190 the previous night. The blockades began Sunday night after polls closed in Brazil.

Although smaller than in previous days, the protests are still likely disrupting fuel distribution, meat production, food deliveries to supermarkets and shipments of grains to ports.

Anvisa, the national health agency, warned that the blockades could lead to shortages of medical supplies.

Police said 601 roadblocks had been cleared across the country, though roads remained blocked or partially blocked in 15 of Brazil's 26 states, most notably in Santa Catarina and Mato Grosso, where Bolsonaro has strong popular support.

Multiple large international airports, an important means of transport in a jungle-bound country with no extensive network of transcontinental roads, were also shut down, according to Folha de Sao Paulo. Folha had some good pictures showing the extent of the protests.

The election was close, with only a point's difference between the two diamentrically opposed candidates, so close there's never been one that close in Brazil's history.

The polls and election apparat are left-biased, so it was amazing the race came as close as it did, assuming it was honest. 

Problem though, is that thousands aren't convinced it was, which is why there are protests -- and the dynamic is not the same as the American one on who is what kind of voter -- the large cities, for instance, were all solidly pro-Bolsonaro. The poorer outskirts were Lula supporters.

Some things that were disturbing to the urban Bolsonaro voters on Brazil's election night, watching it as I did on Twitter, was that Bolsonaro was ahead for the duration of the race and only lost his lead by a narrow margin at the very end. Reuters was putting out tweet headlines about Bolsonaro being in the lead and then all of a sudden, the direction flipped.

Why do those things always happen one way, with the leftist coming out on top?

Bolsonaro himself had been warning about fraud in the system, too, presumably based on the bias of the ballot counters, but also on the use of Smartmatic voting machines, whose use had been questioned in Venezuela and the Philippines in the past, triggering protests.

Now, I'm not ready to insist it was fraud, because maybe it was not.

Polls did have Lula a little ahead, which went in his favor. The Latin American Zeitgeist these days has been to embrace the far left, so Lula also had that going for him, too. A third factor was likely a sympathy vote -- Lula had been thrown in jail for corruption for a few years until the conviction was vacated, and such an extreme action, with politicized overtones (although Bolsonaro was not involved), is bound to have made some voters angry to see a former leader who went out on a wave of popularity to be treated like that. A fourth factor is that COVID was very harsh in Brazil, with huge numbers of deaths. Bolsonaro did not act like a tyrant as so many U.S. mostly Democrat governors did, but he likely was blamed anyway, given the severity. A fifth factor was the sudden moderation of Lula's party platform and choice of associates, particularly his vice president, a reputed conservative -- the prospect of Lula not acting like Hugo Chavez or Gustavo Petro was probably attractive to voters, and it also was within character. Anyone who watches Oliver Stone's valuable documentary on Latin America's leaders called "South of the Border" would find that Lula, when interviewed, was quite a bit more sane, human, reasonable, and less seemingly corrupt than the other far-left Latin leaders who either oozed corruption or were simply wild-eyed crazy leftists. So that, too, probably helped Lula.

Still, it's a hard call, and it's very hard to lose a major election by a narrow margin. What we can take from this is that even in the best of systems, where elections are tallied in one night, not several months as the U.S.. transparency in elections, with every step visible, is the only way to retain confidence in elections.

It's quite tragic how this election turned out in Brazil, because Bolsonaro was a worthy president and had President Trump's full endorsement. He can console himself with the reality that he can run again, if they don't manage to jail him, which is a real risk, given the Democrats' example in the states as well as the urge to pay back for the jailing of Lula. But even more important, huge gains were made by Bolsonaro's party in the legislature and in the governorships.

Bolsonaro, having founded a movment, like Trump, should be able to triumph once again.

Image: Screen shot from NBC News, via YouTube.




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