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Brazil's president has finally broken his silence about the presidential election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has finally broken his silence. The usually outspoken president had been quiet about his election loss to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday evening, but in the last hours, he made a brief public statement in which he thanked his supporters and said he would abide by the constitution. It wasn't a clear concession, but it was a critical step for the country, which has been holding its breath to see if the president, who's repeatedly questioned the country's electoral system, would peacefully step down.

NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Rio de Janeiro to tell us more. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. OK. So it did take nearly two days...

KAHN: Yes.

CHANG: ...For President Bolsonaro to speak. Did he explicitly accept the election results and congratulate Lula da Silva?

KAHN: No, he did not congratulate - he did not even mention the winner of the race, his rival, Lula da Silva. He spoke for just about two minutes. He thanked the people who voted for him and asked those who are protesting his loss to respect the law.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: So what he's saying is - he was referring to some protests. He - the protesters - and he says he understands that they are expressing the indignation and injustice they are feeling regarding the electoral process. And he's insinuating, as he's done repeatedly, that there was fraud in the electoral process. He always says the election officials are biased and ruled disproportionately against them.

Like you said, there's a lot of concern about whether he will peacefully transfer power, and this nearly two-day silence just heightened those concerns. And while he never, you know, clearly conceded, right after he left the mic, his chief of staff stepped up and said that he has been authorized to head up the transition process and referred to da Silva as president, so that was the official concession.

CHANG: Got it. OK. Meanwhile, what's going on with all these, like, truck blockades from Bolsonaro's supporters?

KAHN: Truckers who are supporters of him have been blocking major highways throughout the country. They started after the election results. The Supreme Court today ordered the Federal Highway Police to remove the blockades, and more than 200 have been cleared. And I was just at one outside of Rio de Janeiro here, and truck drivers were no longer blocking the highway, but there were a couple dozen protesters wrapped in the bright green and yellow Brazilian flags that were waving to cars passing by.

Some of the protests said they believed the election was stolen. One man even referred to former President Donald Trump's claims that the 2020 U.S. elections were stolen. He said, however, that unlike the U.S., these Bolsonaro supporters will take action. He didn't give any specifics. And I did talk to one truck driver who was very upset about not being able to pass freely on the highways, and he said he's just losing money as he waited for these blockades to be removed.

CHANG: I can imagine. OK. Well, what have we heard from President-Elect da Silva today?

KAHN: He - today, he announced his transition team. It will be led by his vice-presidential running mate, who is a former governor of the largest state here, Sao Paulo, and is known for being a centrist and a fiscal conservative. That pick appears to be sending a strong signal that da Silva is not going to make any radical moves. You know, da Silva beat the far-right populist Bolsonaro with this broad ranging coalition of people on the left and the center and the right, and now he has to wrangle it all under one government. And the choice of this moderate to lend that - to lead the transition appears to be a step toward doing that.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn in Rio de Janeiro. Thank you so much, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.