Brazil election heads to runoff as Bolsonaro tops polls

BRAZIL / RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s presidential election faces a runoff, electoral authorities said on Sunday after President Jair Bolsonaro’s surprise first-round strength dashed hopes of rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for a clear victory.

With 99.7% of electronic votes counted, Lula led the way with 48.4% of the vote, versus 43.3% for Bolsonaro, the national electoral authority reported. As neither received the majority of support, the race will vote in a second round on October 30th.

Several opinion polls had found left-wing Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, ahead of far-right Bolsonaro by 10 to 15 percentage points ahead of Sunday’s vote. The much narrower result dashed hopes of a quick fix for a deeply polarized election in the world’s fourth-largest democracy.

Bolsonaro had questioned polls showing he lost to Lula in the first round, saying they failed to capture the enthusiasm he saw campaigning. He has also, without evidence, attacked the integrity of Brazil’s electronic voting system and hinted that if he loses, he may not give up.

Political observers had said a big lead for Lula could deprive Bolsonaro of support to challenge the election results. But Sunday’s vote, which added another four weeks to a tense and violent election, revived his campaign.

“The far right is very strong across Brazil,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper Business School. “Lula’s second-round win is now less likely. Bolsonaro will arrive for re-election with a lot of force.”

Lula was upbeat about the result, saying it would only postpone his victory and that he was looking forward to facing Bolsonaro in a debate.

“We can compare the Brazil he built to the one we built,” he told reporters.

Bolsonaro was also calm and self-assured in his post-election statements, denigrating pollsters for failing to assess his support.

“I plan to make the right political alliances to win this election,” he told reporters, noting significant progress his party had made in Sunday’s general election in Congress.

His right-wing allies won 19 of the 27 seats up for grabs in the Senate, and early results indicated a strong performance from his base in the lower house.

CELEBRATION IN RIO

Outside the home of Bolsonaro’s family in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, the mood was optimistic.

Maria Lourdes de Noronha, 63, said only cheating can prevent a Bolsonaro win, adding that “we will not accept it” if he loses. “The polls in our country, the media and journalists are liars, scoundrels, shameless,” she said.

Although Lula left the presidency 12 years ago with record popularity, he is now disliked by many Brazilians after he was convicted of taking bribes and jailed during the last election. His conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing him to run for president again this year, along with nine other candidates from a number of smaller parties.

Bolsonaro, a career lawmaker-turned-self-proclaimed maverick, led a backlash against Lula’s Labor Party to victory in 2018, uniting strands of the Brazilian right, from evangelical Christians to agricultural interests and gun advocates.

He has dismantled environmental and indigenous protections to the delight of commercial farmers and wild miners, while appealing to social conservatives with an anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda.

His popularity has suffered since the coronavirus pandemic, which he described as the “little flu,” before COVID-19 killed 686,000 Brazilians. Corruption scandals also forced ministers out of his government and cast a harsh spotlight on his sons of lawmakers.

But Sunday’s vote shows his support is far from collapsing.

Lula’s proposals for Brazil were sparse, but he promises to improve the lot of Brazil’s poor and working class, just as he did as president from 2003 to 2010, when he lifted millions out of poverty and strengthened Brazil’s global influence.

While in power, Lula’s approval rating soared as he expanded Brazil’s social safety net amid a commodity-driven economic boom. But in the years after he left office, the economy collapsed, his hand-picked successor was impeached and many of his associates were imprisoned in a major bribery scandal.

Lula herself spent 19 months in prison on bribery convictions that were overturned by the Supreme Court last year. – Reuters