Since losing his re-election bid, Brazil’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has virtually disappeared from view, holed up in his official residence — leaving the country with an uneasy sense of power vacuum.
Nearly three weeks after losing to leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the far-right president – who is in office until January 1 – has been uncharacteristically quiet, avoiding public events and even his beloved social media accounts.
As experts pondered the reason – Is he whining? Consumed by anger? – Vice President Hamilton Mourao finally gave an explanation on Wednesday: his boss, he said, has a skin infection called ringworm.
“He has health problems. 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 appeared to leave room for doubt.
Shortly before that, he told another newspaper, Valor, that Bolsonaro was in solitary confinement due to “mental withdrawal.”
Mourao appeared to think the crippling leader’s withdrawal could last until the end of his term, amid reports Bolsonaro plans to travel abroad on inauguration day to avoid handing the presidential belt to Lula, as tradition dictates.
“I am not the president. I can’t be the one handing out belts,” Mourao said.
Almost empty schedule
Bolsonaro’s retreat from the public began the night of the second election, on October 30, when he lost by the narrowest margin in Brazil’s modern history – less than two percentage points.
He did not reappear until almost 48 hours later, when he gave a brief speech in which he said he would respect the constitution – but neither conceded defeat nor congratulated Lulu.
The leader of Latin America’s largest economy skipped the G20 summit in Bali this week, leaving his vice president to perform traditional duties such as receiving the mission of new ambassadors.
Bolsonaro’s public schedule has been largely empty, except for brief, irregular meetings — almost all at his official residence, not the presidential offices.
Once a taciturn presence on Twitter and Facebook, Bolsonaro has even gone silent online, including the weekly live address he used to broadcast directly to his station throughout his presidency.
As Brazilians wonder whether the “Trump of the South” will try to make a comeback after four years, analyst Oliver Stuenkel said he saw Bolsonaro’s silence as a strategic move.
“He cannot accept the result of the election outright, but at the same time he cannot question it, because that could lead to the electoral court punishing him” by stripping him of his right to run, Stuenkel told AFP. .
“Silence is the best solution.”
Bolsonaro is eager to encourage hardline supporters who have been protesting outside military 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 attended the presentations on Tuesday, a holiday in Brazil – although fewer on weekdays.
Online, speculation about the cause of Bolsonaro’s silence tends to be more psychological.
“Where is the wound that prevents Bolsonaro from working?” Ten feet? His ego?” said one Twitter user.
Sylvio Costa, founder of the news site Congresso em Foco, said Bolsonaro may have “a case of denial that has progressed into depression”.
“It was Bolsonaro’s first electoral defeat” since he entered politics in 1988, first as a city councilor in Rio de Janeiro, then as a member of parliament for seven years, Costa said.
The president, he added, faces “dozens of investigations and lawsuits and fears being sent to prison.” I believe that Bolsonaro is lost.
But he is also “totally unpredictable,” Costa added, saying Bolsonaro could “appear again with a coup speech and try to disrupt the start of a new government as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, there are national security fears over the apparent vacuum at the top.
“You wonder if the president would be prepared to take the necessary steps in a national emergency,” Stuenkel said.
Lula has been very much like a head of state, campaigning and holding high-level meetings and traveling this week to the United Nations climate conference in Egypt, where he declared: “Brazil is back.