Bolsonaro and Lula headed for the runoff in Brazil’s election


Brazil’s top two presidential candidates will face off in a runoff after neither garnered enough support to win Sunday’s election that will decide whether the country will return a leftist to the top of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or not keeps the far-right incumbent in office.

With 99.5% of the vote counted in Sunday’s election, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had 48.3% support and President Jair Bolsonaro 43.3%. Nine other candidates also stood, but their support pales in comparison to that of Bolsonaro and da Silva.

The close result came as a surprise as da Silva had taken a clear lead according to pre-election polls. The latest Datafolha poll, released on Saturday, showed a 50% to 36% advantage for da Silva. 12,800 people were interviewed, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

“This narrow difference between Lula and Bolsonaro was not foreseen,” said Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco.

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said: “It’s too early to go too deep, but this election shows that Bolsonaro’s win in 2018 was no hiccup.”

According to Rafael Cortez, head of political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria, Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil’s southeastern region, which includes the populous states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

Supporters of Brazilian President and re-election candidate Jair Bolsonaro react as they watch the vote count for the general and presidential elections October 2, 2022 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

According to Rafael Cortez, head of political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria, Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil’s southeastern region, which includes the populous states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

“The polls haven’t caught that growth,” Cortez said.

Bolsonaro’s government has been marked by inflammatory speeches, his scrutiny of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rejecting political correctness and portraying himself as the nation’s protector from leftist policies that he says violate personal liberties and create economic turmoil.

In the vote earlier Sunday, Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader in the capital Brasilia, wore the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have co-opted for demonstrations. Melo said he was voting again for Bolsonaro, who had lived up to his expectations and didn’t think the polls put him behind.

“Surveys can be manipulated. They all own companies with interests,” he said.

A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor as 33 million Brazilians starve despite better social benefits. Like several of its Latin American neighbors struggling with high inflation and large numbers of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a political swing to the left.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability not only of opinion polls but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to dismiss results.

Supporter of former Brazilian President (2003-2010) and leftist Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reacts as he watches the vote count for the general and presidential elections in Brasilia, Brazil October 2, 2022.

SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have evidence of fraud but never produced any, even after the electoral commission set a deadline for doing so. As late as September 18, he said if he doesn’t win the first round, something must be “abnormal”.

Da Silva, 76, was once a metalworker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building a massive welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class .

But he is also known for his government’s involvement in major corruption scandals involving politicians and businessmen.

Da Silva’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to a 19-month prison sentence and barred him from the 2018 presidential campaign, which polls showed had gone against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later overturned da Silva’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Social worker Nadja Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but has voted for Bolsonaro since 2018.

“Unfortunately, the Labor Party let us down. They promised to be different,” she said in Brasilia.

Others, like Marialva Pereira, are more forgiving. She said she will be voting for the former president for the first time since 2002.

“I didn’t like the scandals in his first term, never voted for Labor again. Now I’m going to do it because I think he was wrongly imprisoned and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that it makes everyone else look better,” said Pereira, 47.

After voting in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing hub in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva recalled being jailed four years ago and unable to vote.

Brazilians vote in the first round of presidential elections
Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station during the first round of the presidential elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, October 2, 2022.


Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle class family before joining the army. He turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing for increases in soldiers’ salaries. During his seven terms as a marginal legislator in the lower house of Congress, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two-decade military dictatorship.

His overtures to the armed forces have raised concerns that his possible denial of election results could be backed by top officials.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts from right-wing foreign politicians, including former US President Donald Trump, urging Brazilians to vote for him. Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for stronger bilateral ties, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also praised him.

After Sunday morning’s vote, Bolsonaro told journalists that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. When asked if he would respect the results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

Leda Wasem, 68, had no doubt Bolsonaro would not simply be re-elected. The real estate agent, who wore a national soccer team jersey at a polling station in downtown Curitiba, said an eventual da Silva victory could have only one explanation: fraud.

“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person supporting Lula,” she said.

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