Brazilian presidential elections go to a runoff after a surprisingly strong vote for the right-wing extremist Bolsonaro

Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and left-wing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appear to be headed for a second-round runoff to decide Brazil’s presidential election after neither candidate won a clear victory in Sunday’s vote Has.

Datafolha, Brazil’s top pollster, predicted the race would go into a second lap late Sunday night. Several Brazilian news outlets, including the newspapers Folha de S. Paulo and O Estado de S. Paulo, also predicted that neither candidate would cross the majority threshold.

Da Silva, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, had won 48.3% of the vote with almost all counts completed. Bolsonaro was just behind at around 43.2%, a tally that beat the latest primary polls by about 6 points.

Da Silva will still go into the runoff as a slight favorite to defeat Bolsonaro, but the closer-than-expected first-round vote will raise concerns about the accuracy of Brazil’s major poll, which suggests Bolsonaro has been far weaker and there Silva’s lead would extend in a one-on-one scenario.

It will also likely fuel Bolsonaro’s skepticism about polls proposed by Silva, which could win Sunday’s race with a clear majority of votes. Bolsonaro and his supporters cast doubt on those polls in the final weeks of the race, and will likely see the president’s clear outperformance as confirmation of their skepticism.

Bolsonaro allies won gubernatorial, congressional and senate elections Sunday night, another sign of the possibly underappreciated strength of his right-wing movement. And what seemed like da Silva could win a win even in the event of a runoff now appears to be a tight race.

The four-year head-to-head competition will have a massive impact on Brazil’s democracy, the fourth-largest in the world. Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has long expressed his affinity with the dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, ran for president in 2018 on an openly anti-democratic platform, and has ruled as the authoritarian-minded leader he promised had, and has, spent the past two years launching unfounded attacks on the country’s electoral system.

As an ally of former US President Donald Trump, he has made it clear he does not want to accept the results of an election defeat, fueling fears he will attempt to provoke something of a Brazilian version of the January 6, 2021, uprising in the US -Capitol if he loses.

Da Silva, his supporters and many Brazilian political pundits saw a first-round victory on Sunday as an important way to soften Bolsonaro’s electoral challenge, cutting off the path to a second term in which he could further threaten the country’s democracy. Instead, the campaign will lead to a runoff election that will end on October 30, a time many observers fear Bolsonaro will use to further spread conspiracies and deepen his attempts to subvert the election.

“The second round will give Bolsonaro an extra month to cause as much uproar as possible,” said Guilherme Casarões, a Brazilian political expert at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

A stronger than expected Bolsonaro could also do it possibly win the tiebreakeran outcome that would grant him a second term, which he could use to consolidate many of his efforts to erode Brazil’s fundamental rights and democratic institutions.

“The prospects for Brazilian democracy now look far worse than they did 24 hours ago,” said Filipe Campante, a Brazilian professor at Johns Hopkins University. tweeted as the results indicated an outflow. “Bolsonaro will have a real chance of winning the runoff and if that happens, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

Da Silva went Sunday optimistic he could pull off a convincing win this weekend, especially after the release of two new polls that suggested he could capture more than 50% of the vote on the eve of the election. However, he also vowed to celebrate the result even if he came up short, hoping to energize his supporters for the tiebreak.

“We will celebrate because we deserve it,” he said on Saturday. “To be reborn from the ashes is cause for celebration.”

There were good omens for the left-wing ex-president: Brazilian presidential elections are almost never decided in the first ballot, and Da Silva as a challenger won at least 6 million votes more than Bolsonaro. He’s not far from the majority that would take him to a second-round win. And it’s unclear if Bolsonaro can close that gap in a head-to-head as far more Brazilians say they won’t vote for him under any circumstances than those who say the same about da Silva.

Despite Bolsonaro’s surprising strength, Silva struck a positive note in a press conference on Sunday evening.

“I wanted to win in the first round, but that’s not always possible,” said da Silva. “I always thought we were going to win this election. And we will win this election.”

“There are still 30 days until the election campaign,” said da Silva. “And I love campaigning.”

Twelve years after leaving office as “the most popular politician in the world,” as then-US President Barack Obama called him, the left is attempting an impressive political reversal. From 2003 to 2010, da Silva led the explosive growth of Brazil’s economy that lifted millions out of poverty and transformed Brazil into a powerful player on the global stage.

But he was jailed on corruption charges in 2018, as part of a broader probe that involved hundreds of Brazilian politicians and business leaders. This, combined with the collapse of Brazil’s economy under his successor, apparently ended Silva’s political career and tarnished his legacy.

A year later, The Intercept Brazil uncovered significant judicial shortcomings in the case against him. His conviction was overturned, paving the way for a matchup with Bolsonaro, which he wanted to compete in 2018 but couldn’t because the corruption case led to his disqualification from the race.

Bolsonaro, who won an unlikely victory in a 2018 election marred by dissatisfaction with a political establishment that da Silva once embodied and the Labor Party he founded, has spent his four years in office shaping Brazil’s democratic institutions undermine and target the rights of Brazil’s most marginalized communities. He has curtailed protections for indigenous Brazilians, sought to roll back LGBTQ rights, monitored record levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and unleashed Brazil’s violent police forces to kill even more indiscriminately.

He has regularly attacked journalists and political critics and brought Brazil’s military, which had largely stayed out of civilian politics since the end of its dictatorship in 1985, back into politics, even appointing more officers to government posts than served in military government.

Support for Bolsonaro’s scandal-plagued and volatile government plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, which he portrayed as a plot to overthrow his presidency. He opposed lockdowns and sought to undermine confidence in vaccines even as the virus killed more than 680,000 Brazilians, the second-highest official death toll in the world.

Female voters in particular have turned against Bolsonaro, according to pre-election polls, largely thanks to his machismo-driven policies and lack of focus on the economy, despite sharp increases in food, energy and other basic costs this summer.

A litany of Brazilian business elites, judges and lawyers — many of whom had backed Bolsonaro four years earlier — released a letter this summer defending the country’s democracy that didn’t specifically name Bolsonaro but clearly implied that his electoral conspiracies had endangered them. Senior officials and lawmakers in both the United States and Europe have also expressed major concern about the election, warning Bolsonaro to stop threatening it and raising the possibility of sanctions if he attempts to undemocratically participate in the election power to stay.

Bolsonaro fared far better than expected in states like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s two most populous countries, and also beat pre-election forecasts in other parts of the south and south-east of the country. A strong performance from da Silva in Brazil’s northeast, his traditional stronghold, was enough to give him the lead but not the majority he needed to end Election Sunday.

In the days leading up to Sunday’s vote, Bolsonaro continued to escalate his attacks on Brazil’s electoral system, questioning the legitimacy of polls that showed him behind da Silva while his party made false claims about the ability of election officials to manipulate votes.

Bolsonaro could ramp up his attacks, but the first-round results also suggest he still has a chance of legitimately winning a second term — something even Bolsonaro didn’t seem to believe in ahead of Sunday’s vote. That all but ensures that Brazil’s democracy faces a strained month and the kind of test it hasn’t passed since its dictatorship ended nearly four decades ago.