Brazil’s polarizing presidential race will go to a second round run-off after no candidate achieved a majority of more than 50% of the ballot in an election that saw long lines at polling booths as millions turned out to vote.
With more than 99% of the vote counted on Sunday evening, results released by Brazil’s Electoral Superior Court (TSE) showed left-wing candidate and former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva held a slight lead over right-wing incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro – but not enough to cross the threshold to victory.
The latest official count put Lula ahead with 48.4% of the vote versus 43.2% for Bolsonaro, a divisive figure often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics.”
Bolsonaro’s result was eight points higher than the latest Datafolha poll showed on Saturday, while Lula’s was two to three points lower than predicted by polls.
Lula told reporters in Sao Paulo Sunday night that he was confident of winning the run-off vote to be held on October 30.
“It will be important (to have a second round) because we will have the chance to do a face-to-face debate with the current president to know if he will keep on telling lies,” said Lula, who was Brazil’s leader from 2002 to 2010.
In a brief news conference Sunday, Bolsonaro said the voting reflected the poor economic conditions felt by poorer Brazilians, and promised to appeal to voters who are worried about rising prices.
“We have a second round ahead where everything becomes the same, the (television advertising) time for each side becomes the same. And now we are going to show it better for the Brazilian population, especially the most affected class, the consequence of the ‘stay at home, we’ll see the economy later’ policy,” Bolsonaro said.
Bolsonaro, who has routinely discredited the Brazilian electoral system and threatened to not accept its results, managed to beat Lula in the southeast states, the most populous of the country.
More than 123 million Brazilians waited in long lines to vote in the world’s fourth largest democracy, while another 32 million abstained. According to TSE President Alexandre de Moraes, the extensive queues were caused by new biometric security checks and higher than expected voter turnout.
Several other presidential candidates were in the running but trailed far behind the two frontrunners.
Simone Tebet of the Brazilian Democratic Movement came third with 4.1% of valid votes, and Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labour Party received 3.05% of the vote.
Gomes said in a news conference Sunday that he is “deeply concerned” about Brazil’s political polarization. “I have never seen a situation so complex, so challenging, so potentially threatening to our fortunes as a nation,” he said.
After voting alongside his wife, Rosangela da Silva, at a Sao Paulo school on Sunday, Lula told reporters: “We don’t want more discord, we want a country that lives in peace. This is the most important election. I am really happy.”
He also referenced the 2018 elections, where he had been unable to run – or vote – because of a corruption conviction that was overturned last year.
“Four years ago I couldn’t vote because I had been the victim of a lie in this country. And four years later, I’m here, voting with the recognition of my total freedom and with the possibility of being president of the republic of this country again, to try to make this country return to normality,” Lula said.
Lula vs. Bolsonaro on the campaign trail
While there were nearly a dozen candidates on the ballot, the race was dominated from the outset by Lula and Bolsonaro, two titans of Brazilian politics who engaged in a bruising campaign season marked by bitter verbal attacks and a series of violent incidents between rival supporters.
Bolsonaro, 67, ran for re-election under the conservative Liberal Party. He has campaigned to increase mining, privatize public companies and generate more sustainable energy to bring down energy prices. He has vowed to continue paying a R$600 (about $110) monthly benefit known as Auxilio Brasil.
His government is known for its support for ruthless exploitation of land in the Amazon, leading to record deforestation figures. Environmentalists are warning that the future of the rainforest could be at stake in this election.
Bolsonaro has also been widely criticized for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 686,000 people in Brazil have died from the virus.
Lula, 76, focused his campaign on getting Bolsonaro out of office and highlighted his past achievements throughout his campaign.
He left office with a 90% approval rating in 2011, and is largely credited for lifting millions of Brazilians from extreme poverty through the “Bolsa Familia” welfare program.
His campaign promised a new tax regime that will allow for higher public spending. He has vowed to end hunger in the country, which has returned during the Bolsonaro government. Lula also promises to work to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation in the Amazon.
Lula, however, is also no stranger to controversy. He was convicted for corruption and money laundering in 2017, on charges stemming from the wide-ranging “Operation Car Wash” investigation into the state-run oil company Petrobras. But after serving less than two years, a Supreme Court Justice annulled Lula’s conviction in March 2021, clearing the way for him to run for president for a sixth time.
‘If they are clean elections, no problem’
Bolsonaro, who has been accused of firing up supporters with violent rhetoric, has sought to sow doubts about the result and said that the results should be considered suspicious if he doesn’t gain “at least 60%.”
On Saturday, he repeated claims that he expected to win in the first round of presidential elections “with a margin higher than 60%,” despite being 14 points behind in the most recent poll that day.
Both Bolsonaro and his Liberal Party have claimed that Brazil’s electronic ballot system is susceptible to fraud – an entirely unfounded allegation that has drawn comparisons to the false election claims of former US President Donald Trump.
There have been no proven instances of voter fraud in the electronic ballot in Brazil.
The Supreme Electoral Court has also rejected claims of flaws in the system, as “false and untruthful, with no base in reality.”