SÃO PAULO – After the fiercest presidential campaign in Brazil’s history, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva managed to beat his rival Jair Bolsonaro on October 30 with a narrow margin of only two million votes.
As soon as the South American country’s electoral authority proclaimed Lula’s victory, several world leaders called him or congratulated him on social media, including President Joe Biden.
But more than one day after the election, Bolsonaro had not yet publicly acknowledged his defeat. All over the nation, groups of his supporters have been blocking roads and asking for a military coup to correct what they saw as “a voting fraud”– although there is no evidence of voting irregularities.
The protests are a signal that the political polarization in the country – intensified since the 2018 presidential campaign, when Bolsonaro was elected – may not end with the conclusion of the electoral process. Although the church is aware of the great obstacles ahead, it has been calling for Brazilians to leave their differences aside and work together from now on.
On Oct. 31, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) issued a statement in which it called the people to reconcile and seek “the common good.”
“The conclusion of the 2022 elections summons us, even more, to reconciliation, essential to the new cycle that is opening. Now, everyone, without distinction, needs to accompany, demand and supervise those who have achieved success at the polls. The exercise of citizenship does not end with the end of the electoral process,” the declaration said.
The letter congratulates the elected politicians and the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) for its “zeal during the whole democratic process.”
Headed by Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who has been playing a fundamental role over the past few years in restraining Bolsonaro’s perceived attacks on Brazilian institutions, the TSE expended great effort to secure that the election would not be disturbed by the politically charged atmosphere.
Since the 2018 campaign, Bolsonaro has alleged that there are security flaws in the voting machines used in Brazil since the 1990s. Over the past months, he has claimed several times that he enjoyed great popular support and that he would only accept an electoral outcome that benefitted him, saying his defeat would be a clear sign of fraud.
Those ideas have become popular among his most adamant supporters, who saw a conspiracy from world leaders, a section of the business leadership in Brazil, the media, and the judiciary to elect Lula.
Shortly before the second round of the presidential vote, Bolsonaro’s campaign tried to put in doubt the legitimacy of the process.
One of the arguments presented by his supporters was that radio stations all over the country – but especially in the Northeast, where Lula was born and where he has a great political hegemony – refused to play Bolsonaro’s campaign ads.
His campaign failed to provide any evidence of fraud and Moraes closed the case, enraging many of Bolsonaro’s voters.
On election day, reports coming from different locations in the Northeast said federal highway police officers were stopping cars and buses taking electors to vote in order to inspect them. Such inspections were causing delays and risked keeping the voters from the polls before they closed.
Videos showing policemen keeping people waiting on the road apparently for no reason flooded social media and many of Lula’s supporters began to ask for an extension of voting hours. In the afternoon, Moraes told reporters that he had met with the federal police director and ordered that all such inspections should immediately cease.
Now, among Lula’s voters, there is an atmosphere of insecurity, as many of them fear that Bolsonaro can still impede the president-elect to take office in January.
Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino of the Prelature of São Félix, in Mato Grosso State, said the way for pacification is open, despite so much animosity.
“I think that most of Bolsonaro’s electors are not fanatic and after the dust settles a dialogue will be possible,” he told Crux.
Vasino’s prelature is a region where Brazil’s political divide is plainly seen.
Located in the Amazon, it has been economically dominated by agribusiness – which heavily supports Bolsonaro – for decades.
At the same time, there is a great number of poor peasants and Indigenous peoples in the area who support Lula.
The prelate said that even the church has suffered violence during the campaign, with people insulting a pro-Lula priest on social media.
“Despite all that, Catholics need now to establish dialogues with both sides of the political spectrum – dialogues that are calm and gentle and are not a contraposition of party slogans,” he said.
Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho, in Rondônia State, said that many families have been divided over politics – and now it is about time to reconcile.
“But it depends on the good disposition of everyone, including the president. We have to avoid unnecessary arguments and work for solidarity and peace,” he told Crux.
Paloschi said that several roads have been blocked by pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators in Rondônia. Truck drivers have been leading such protests in almost every state of the country. Videos on social media show that local and federal policemen have often been showing support to the protesters.
“But I believe that the order will prevail, and that people will be calmer and accept the election’s outcome. Catholics have to be wise and careful, avoiding aggressiveness and revenge,” he said.
The archbishop said Brazilians should seek “humility” and remember the prayer attributed to Saint Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
“Even if we are attacked, we should not show the same attitude of our aggressor. Jesus never responded to his critics. The only reaction he had was to ask his attacker why he attacked him,” he said.