Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and left-wing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appear to be heading for a runoff election to settle Brazil’s presidential election after neither candidate won an outright victory in Sunday’s vote.
Brazil’s largest pollster, Datafolha, predicted the race would move on to a second round late Sunday night. Multiple Brazilian news outlets, including the newspapers Folha de S.Paulo and O Estado de S.Paulo, also predicted that neither candidate would pass the majority threshold.
Da Silva, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, had won nearly 48% of the vote and about 96% of the count was completed. Bolsonaro trailed close at around 44%, a score that outperformed the latest election polls by nearly 6 and a half points.
Da Silva will still enter the second round as a slight favorite to beat Bolsonaro, but the closer-than-expected first-round vote will raise concerns about the accuracy of the big poll in Brazil, which had suggested that Bolsonaro was much weaker and that the da Silva’s lead would extend in a one-on-one scenario.
It is also likely to fuel Bolsonaro’s skepticism about polls suggesting da Silva could win Sunday’s race by a clear majority. Bolsonaro and his supporters cast doubt on those investigations in the final weeks of the race, and are likely to see the president’s significant overachievement as confirmation of their skepticism.
Bolsonaro allies won gubernatorial, congressional and Senate races Sunday night, another sign of potentially underrated strength of his right-wing movement. And what looked like a runaway win for da Silva, even in the event of a second lap, now appears to be a competitive race.
The head-to-head competition, which has been underway for four years, will have huge implications for Brazilian democracy, the fourth largest in the world. Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has long expressed an affinity for the dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, ran for president in 2018 on a blatantly anti-democratic platform, has ruled as the authoritarian leader he promised to be, and have carried out unwarranted attacks on the country’s electoral system in the past two years.
An ally of former US President Donald Trump, he has made it clear that he has no intention of accepting the results of an election defeat, raising fears that he will try to provoke something akin to a Brazilian version of the January 6, 2021. , uprising at the US Capitol if he loses.
Da Silva, his supporters and many Brazilian political pundits saw Sunday’s first-round win as an important way to water down any electoral challenge Bolsonaro could pose and cut his way to a second term in which he can demolish democracy. further threaten the country. Instead, the campaign will lead to a runoff that will end on October 30, a period many observers fear Bolsonaro will use to further spread conspiracies and deepen his efforts to undermine the election.
“The second round gives Bolsonaro an extra month to create as much unrest as possible,” said Guilherme Casarões, a Brazilian political expert at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.
However, a stronger than expected Bolsonaro could also be may win the second rounda result that would earn him a second term that he could use to consolidate many of his efforts to erode Brazil’s fundamental rights and democratic institutions.
“The prospects for Brazilian democracy look considerably bleaker now than they did 24 hours ago,” said Filipe Campante, a Brazilian professor at Johns Hopkins University. tweeted because the results indicated a drain. “Bolsonaro will have a real chance of winning the second round, and in that case we will be in deep trouble.”
Da Silva started Sunday optimistic that he would take a convincing win this weekend, especially after the release of two new polls that suggested he could take 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 keep his supporters energized for the second round.
“We’re going to party because we deserve it,” he said on Saturday. “Being reborn from the ashes is a cause for celebration.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s surprising strength, da Silva struck a positive note in a press conference on Sunday night.
“I wanted to win in the first round, but that’s not always possible,” said da Silva. “I always thought we would win this election. And we’re going to win these elections.”
“It’s 30 days left to campaign,” da Silva said. “And I like campaigning.”
The leftist, 12 years after he left office as “the most popular politician in the world,” is trying to make a stunning political turnaround, as then US President Barack Obama called him. From 2003 to 2010, da Silva oversaw the explosive growth of the Brazilian economy that lifted millions out of poverty and turned Brazil into a powerful player on the world stage.
But he was jailed in 2018 on a corruption conviction, as part of a wider investigation that entangled hundreds of Brazilian politicians and business leaders. That, along with the collapse of the Brazilian economy under his successor, seemed to end da Silva’s political career and tarnish his legacy.
A year later, The Intercept Brazil revealed significant judicial impropriety in the case against him. His conviction was overturned, paving the way for a match-up with Bolsonaro that he had hoped to win in 2018 but was unable to as the corruption case led to his banning from the race.
Bolsonaro, who won an unlikely victory in a 2018 election marked by discontent with the political establishment da Silva had once embodied and the Workers’ Party he founded, has spent his four years in office eroding the democratic institutions of Brazil and attacking the rights of its most marginalized populations. He has curbed protections for native Brazilians, reversed the rights of LGBTQ people, monitored record levels of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and unleashed Brazil’s violent police to kill even more indiscriminately.
He has routinely attacked journalists and political critics, and has brought the Brazilian military, which had largely abstained from civilian politics since the end of its dictatorship in 1985, back into politics, appointing even more officers to government positions than have served in the military government. .
Support for the scandal-plagued and erratic government of Bolsonaro collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic, which he portrayed as a conspiracy to overthrow his presidency. He opposed lockdowns and sought to undermine confidence in vaccines, even as the virus cost more than 680,000 Brazilians, the second-highest official death toll in the world.
Female voters, in particular, turned against Bolsonaro according to pre-election polls, thanks in large part to his machismo-fueled politics and lack of focus on the economy, even as food, energy and other basic costs soared this summer.
A litany of Brazilian business elites, judges and lawyers — many of whom had supported Bolsonaro four years ago — released a letter defending the country’s democracy this summer that did not specifically mention Bolsonaro, but clearly suggest that his election had endangered. Senior officials and lawmakers in both the United States and Europe have also expressed deep concern over the election, warning Bolsonaro to stop threatening them and raise the possibility of sanctions if he wants to remain in power undemocratically.
Bolsonaro far outperformed expectations in states such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s two most populous, and also beat election forecasts in other parts of the country’s southern and southeastern regions. A strong performance by da Silva in Brazil’s northeast, his traditional stronghold, was enough to put him in charge, but not the majority he needed to secure a majority vote.
In the days leading up to Sunday’s vote, Bolsonaro continued to ramp up his attacks on Brazil’s electoral system, questioning the legitimacy of polls showing him behind da Silva, while his party made false claims about election officials’ ability to manipulate votes.
Bolsonaro may still step up his attacks, but first-round results also suggest he still has a legitimate chance of winning a second term – something even Bolsonaro didn’t seem to believe ahead of Sunday’s vote. That pretty much puts Brazilian democracy in for an exciting month, and the kind of test it hasn’t faced since the end of its dictatorship nearly four decades ago.