Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva becomes Brazil’s next president after beating his right-wing rival, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, by a razor-thin margin in a closely contested runoff election.
The left-wing former leader, commonly known as “Lula”, received more than 60 million votes, the most in Brazilian history, breaking his own 2006 record.
But despite the huge turnout of his supporters, his victory was by a narrow margin – according to the Brazilian electoral authority, Lula da Silva won 50.90% of the vote and Bolsonaro got 49.10%, denying him a second term.
Lula supporters thronged Sunday night after polls closed on São Paulo Avenida Paulista. The vote was festive even before the results were announced, with people firing flares as he was declared the winner by the country’s electoral authority.
Many had tears in their eyes and told CNN they were hopeful for the country, which struggles with high inflation, limited growth and rising poverty.
But others on Avenida Paulista expressed their fear. Lula da Silva’s wafer-thin margin has raised concerns that Bolsonaro will not accept defeat after repeatedly claiming Brazil’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud. The completely baseless accusation has drawn comparisons to the false election claims of former US President Donald Trump.
Hours after the results were announced, Bolsonaro has yet to admit defeat or make a public statement. Meanwhile, videos on social media showed his supporters had blocked highways in two states to protest Lula da Silva’s victory.
“We won’t leave until the military has taken over the country,” an unidentified Bolsonaro supporter said in a video shot in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
In a speech to supporters on Sunday evening, Lula da Silva thanked all Brazilians. “The people who voted for me, the people who voted for the opponent, who went to the polls, who agreed to fulfill their civilized citizenship commitment, I want to congratulate you,” he said, reported CNN Brasil.
“And above all, I want to congratulate the people who voted for me because I consider myself a citizen who has had a process of resurrection in Brazilian politics because they tried to bury me alive and I am here,” he added.
Lula da Silva and Bolsonaro had previously faced each other in a first round of voting on Oct. 2, but neither got more than half the vote, forcing the second vote on Sunday, which turned into a referendum on two completely different visions. for Brazil.
The election came amid a tense and polarized political climate in Brazil.
Both candidates had used this election to attack each other at every turn, and mounting anger has overshadowed the polls and clashes among their supporters, leaving many voters fearful of what’s to come. Voters in Sao Paulo told CNN they wanted to end this election season as soon as possible so the country can move forward.
While there were no reports of political violence on Sunday, Lula da Silva allies accused police of blocking buses and cars carrying Lula voters from reaching the voting sites. However, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), which leads Brazil’s elections, said no one was prevented from voting and refused to extend voting hours, Reuters reports. The Federal Highway Police said they had followed the court orders, it added.
Lula da Silva served for two terms, from 2003 to 2006 and from 2007 to 2011, leading the country through a resource boom that helped fund massive social welfare programs and lifted millions out of poverty.
He left office with a 90% approval rating – a record however tarnished by Brazil’s largest corruption investigation, dubbed ‘Operation Car Wash’, which led to charges against hundreds of high-ranking politicians and businessmen across Latin America. He was convicted of corruption and money laundering in 2017, but a court overturned his conviction in March 2021, paving the way for his political recovery.
Bolsonaro ran for his first term as president in 2018 with the conservative Liberal Party, campaigning as a political outsider and anti-corruption candidate, earning the nickname “Trump of the Tropics.” A divisive figure, Bolsonaro has become known for his bombastic statements and conservative agenda, supported by key evangelical leaders in the country.
During his reelection bid, Bolsonaro appealed to supporters’ moral values and sense of national unity, labeling his left-wing opponent “the communist threat.” His campaign, which adopted the slogan “God, Nation, Family, and Liberty”, promised an intensified version of his first term: tax cuts, policies to support the agricultural industry, reduction of environmental regulations and a continuation of his Auxilio Brasil social benefits to the poorest.
But poverty has risen during his presidency, and his popularity was dented by his handling of the pandemic, which he dismissed as the “minor flu,” before the virus killed more than 680,000 people in the country.
Environmentalists also warned that the future of the rainforest could be at stake in this election, as the Bolsonaro government had become known for its support of the ruthless exploitation of land in the Amazon, leading to record deforestation rates.
World leaders congratulated Lula da Silva on his victory.
US President Joe Biden called the election “free, fair and credible”, and said he “looks forward to working together to continue cooperation between our two countries in the coming months and years”.
Regional leaders described his victory as a “time of hope.”
“Your victory opens a new era for the history of Latin America. A time of hope and future that begins today. Here you have a partner to work with and dream big about the good life of our peoples,” Argentina president Alberto Fernández said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron described it as “a new chapter in Brazil’s history. Together we will join forces to meet the many common challenges and renew the friendship between our two countries.”
In this year’s election, more than 156 million people were eligible to vote. The candidates themselves voted early on Sunday, with Lula voting at a public school in the São Paulo metro area and Bolsonaro casting his vote early Sunday morning in Rio de Janeiro.