Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will face each other in a runoff race having come in second and first place, respectively, in Sunday’s presidential election.
Lula, a far-left socialist who ran for president despite being a convicted felon, has been considered the frontrunner in presidential elections for years and is widely believed a likely winner of the 2018 presidential race had he not been in prison. Lula was convicted and sentenced to, after many appeals, about 25 years in prison for buying a luxury beachfront property with public funding while president. Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), the nation’s top court, reversed the convictions last year, allowing him to again run for president.
In an interesting twist, on Sunday, the judge who led the convictions of politicians implicated in “Operation Car Wash,” the corruption scheme that got Lula arrested, is now a senator: popular Judge Sergio Moro will be representing his home state of Paraná in the upper chamber of Congress.
Bolsonaro, a hardline conservative, won the 2018 race against socialist substitute candidate Fernando Haddad handily, despite suffering a near-fatal stabbing a month before the election that has left him with long-term, recurring medical problems. Bolsonaro made fighting corruption and his enthusiastic stand against economic lockdowns and civil liberties restrictions during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic the core of his campaign messaging this year.
Bolsonaro officially launched his reelection bid in the Minas Gerais city where he was stabbed in 2018.
At press time, with 99.51 percent of precincts reporting, Lula received 48.31 percent of the national vote. Bolsonaro came in second place with 43.3 percent. Simone Tebet of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) came in at a distant third with 4.17 percent of the vote.
In Brazil, if no candidate in the race received over 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters move on to a runoff election by themselves. Lula and Bolsonaro are scheduled to face off in a second round of voting on October 30.
Coming in slightly under the 50 percent threshold, Lula performed largely as national polls expected. Bolsonaro, however, vastly overperformed, signaling that many candidates that had once considered third options ultimately broke for Bolsonaro. Polls last week, and consistently throughout the year, showed Lula with a commanding lead. A poll published last week by the firms Ipespe and Abrapel found 46 percent of eligible Brazilians supported Lula, slightly below the results on Sunday, but only 35 percent proclaimed support for Bolsonaro.
The regional breakdowns showed significant gains for Bolsonaro in multiple key urban regions, where local governors imposed coronavirus lockdowns against Bolsonaro’s loud protests. Last week, the polling firm IPEC published surveys from every state. IPEC found that, in Amazonas state, for example — deep in the northwest of the country — Lula was expected to receive 43 percent of the vote compared to Bolsonaro’s 36 percent. With 99 percent of votes counted, Lula overperformed by six points, but Bolsonaro received 43 percent of the vote, seven points higher than expected.
In Minas Gerais, the IPEC poll found 31 percent support for Bolsonaro; he received 44 percent of the vote in actuality.
In the states home to the two largest cities in the country, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro defeated Lula despite the IPEC poll finding Lula in the lead. Ipec predicted that Lula would receive 43 percent of the vote compared to Bolsonaro’s 33 percent; in reality, Bolsonaro received about 48 percent of the vote compared to Lula’s 41 percent.
In Rio de Janeiro, IPEC found Lula with a 41-to-36-percent lead; Bolsonaro swept over half the votes, 51 percent, in that state compared to 41 percent for Lula.
The Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that Lula’s team expected to trounce Bolsonaro with an over ten-percent lead and is reeling from winning with only half of that, about five percent. At the headquarters of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), the newspaper relayed, “an atmosphere of apprehension and surprise took over the VIP room, where many allies and campaign coordinators followed the tallies.” Lula himself rarely left a room reserved for the candidate. O Globo noted that the PT was eyeing its poor performance in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo with particular dismay.
The Argentine outlet Infobae reported that Lula issued measured remarks announcing his confidence that he would win the runoff at the end of the month, insisting, “the struggle continues until the final victory.” The 76-year-old had reportedly prepared for a much larger victory party, however, reserving blocks on the Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo’s iconic thoroughfare, to celebrate.
In addressing the results on Sunday, Bolsonaro expressed optimism that, with the candidate field cleared out, he would have a better chance to campaign.
“We have a second round ahead where now everything is equal … we are going to show the Brazilian people better [what our proposals are], especially the most affected classes [by] … the policy of ‘stay home, we’ll save the economy later,'” Bolsonaro said, referring to coronavirus lockdowns.
Bolsonaro conceded that some Brazilians are looking for change, “but things could also change for the worse,” he warned them.
Neither the candidate coming in third place, Tebet, nor fourth-place perennial candidate Ciro Gomes opted to endorse Lula or Bolsonaro on Sunday. Gomes expressed frustration with the options left to him in remarks Sunday night.
“I am extremely concerned with what is happening with Brazil,” Gomes said. “I have never seen such a complex, challenging situation … I need a few hours to talk to my friends, my party, so that people may find the better way.”
Together, Gomes and Tebet received about seven percent of the vote, a greater number of votes than the number separating Lula from Bolsonaro.
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