Brazil’s outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has called on diehard supporters to end road blockades launched across the country in protest at his narrow election defeat to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The populist rightwing leader said in a short video posted on social media on Wednesday evening that while he shared people’s disappointment, their actions harmed the economy as well as the right of free movement.
“I am as upset and sad as you, but we have to keep our heads straight,” said the 67-year-old former army captain.
“It hurts everyone having these highways closed. I appeal to you: clear the roads, protest another way, in other places — that is very welcome, it’s part of our democracy.”
The comments signal a clear attempt to de-escalate tensions following Sunday’s vote, when Lula, the veteran leftwing politician and former president won the election with 50.9 per cent of votes.
Since then truck drivers and other Bolsonaro loyalists — who claim, without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent — have mounted hundreds of barricades on transport arteries in Latin America’s largest nation.
Business groups and public authorities have warned the disruption risks shortages of goods such as medical supplies and stocks for supermarkets.
Yet even before Bolsonaro’s intervention the highway blockades were already starting to come down, according to the federal road police, who said they had put an end to more than 700 such protests.
Bolsonaro said: “Other demonstrations you are doing all over Brazil, in squares, it is, I repeat, part of the democratic game. Feel free. Please don’t think badly of me. I want the best for you.”
Thousands of bolsonaristas dressed in the national colours of yellow and green demonstrated outside army barracks across eight states on Wednesday, a national holiday, with some calling for military intervention.
The two-minute recording was a rare public pronouncement by the conservative politician since the end of the presidential race. Bolsonaro waited almost two days to break his silence after losing a bitter election campaign, sparking speculation about his next steps.
But fears among some opponents that the anti-establishment politician might challenge the result proved unfounded. Despite not explicitly conceding or even mentioning his rival, Bolsonaro vowed to respect the constitution in a similarly brief address in Brasília on Tuesday afternoon.
Silvio Cascione at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said the video was further proof that the demonstrations by disgruntled Bolsonaro voters “have limited room to run”.
“There are many circuit breakers preventing a serious institutional crisis in Brazil. The political and business elites are overwhelmingly against overturning the election results,” he said.
“The protests certainly have an economic impact, but they will not affect the transition to Lula’s administration,” he added.
In his earlier declaration at Tuesday’s press conference, Bolsonaro said the protests reflected a feeling of “injustice” at how the electoral process had unfolded. He previously accused the nation’s top electoral authority of bias in favour of Lula.