Brazil’s acting president, Hamilton Mourao, on Saturday criticized outgoing far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro for allowing anti-democratic sentiment to thrive in the wake of this year’s election, in a veiled dig in a New Year speech.
While defending some aspects of Bolsonaro’s four years in power, such as leaving behind a strong economy, Mourao also criticized environmental backsliding after deforestation in the Amazon reached a 15-year-high under his watch.
Vice president under Bolsonaro, Mourao delivered the New Year speech after taking over on Friday, when the outgoing president flew to Florida to avoid handing over the presidential sash to leftist President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at his Jan. 1 inauguration.
Bolsonaro’s exit follows weeks of near silence following his defeat in Brazil’s most fraught election in a generation.
Some of his supporters have refused to accept Lula’s victory, believing Bolsonaro’s baseless claims that the October election was stolen and contributing to a tense atmosphere in the capital Brasilia, with riots and a foiled bomb plot.
“Leaders who were supposed to reassure and unite the nation around a project for the country allowed silence or inopportune and deleterious protagonism to create an atmosphere of chaos and social disintegration,” Mourao said in a seven-minute address on television, in a thinly veiled dig at Bolsonaro.
Some hardcore Bolsonaro supporters have been camping outside army barracks since his defeat, calling for the military to stage a coup, while also railing against the country’s Supreme Court, which Bolsonaro has accused of trampling on his executive power and censoring right-wing voices.
Mourao, who is also a retired army general, said leaders in the country – whom he did not name – “irresponsibly” left the armed forces exposed, noting some people had accused the military of encouraging protesters while others accused them of not doing enough to oppose such demonstrations.
In a surprisingly strong speech, Mourao praised democracy and said the country would just change governments, not regimes on Jan. 1, adding that people must return to their normal lives.
“The alternation of power in a democracy is healthy and must be preserved,” the acting president said, while recalling some accomplishments but recognizing the Bolsonaro administration had some “mishaps” on the environmental front over the years.
Mourao was elected in 2018 as Bolsonaro’s running mate but was ditched in this year’s election, with the outgoing president choosing former Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto to join his defeated ticket.
Mourao instead ran for Senate and secured a spot in the upper house of Congress representing the state of Rio Grande do Sul.