Brazil election goes to run-off as President Jair Bolsonaro outperforms polls

Leftist Lula ahead with 48.4 per cent of votes versus 43.3 per cent for his rival

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Brazil's presidential election is heading for a run-off after no candidate achieved more than a 50 per cent majority in the first round of voting.

As millions turned out to vote, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's surprising first round strength upset leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's hopes of winning outright.

With 99.7 per cent of electronic votes counted, Lula was ahead with 48.4 per cent of votes versus 43.3 per cent for Mr Bolsonaro, Brazil's electoral authority reported on Sunday.

As neither got a majority of support, the race will go to a second-round vote on October 30.

Several opinion surveys had shown Mr da Silva, popularly referred to as Lula and who was president from 2003 to 2010, leading Mr Bolsonaro by 10 to 15 percentage points ahead of Sunday's vote — a much tighter result than expected in the world's fourth-largest democracy.

Mr Bolsonaro had questioned polls that showed him losing in the first round, saying they did not capture enthusiasm he saw on the campaign trail. He has also attacked the integrity of Brazil's electronic voting system without evidence, suggesting he might not concede if he lost.

Observers had said a wide margin of victory for Mr da Silva could sap Mr Bolsonaro of support to challenge the electoral results. But Sunday's vote, extending a tense and violent election by another four weeks, revitalised his campaign.

“The extreme right is very strong across Brazil,” Carlos Melo, a political scientist at the Insper business school, told Reuters.

“Lula's second-round victory is now less likely. Bolsonaro will arrive with a lot of strength for re-election.”

A supporter of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro watches the vote count  in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. AFP

Mr da Silva put an optimistic spin on the result, saying that it would only postpone his victory and that he looked forward to going head-to-head with Mr Bolsonaro in a debate.

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

Mr Bolsonaro was also calm and confident in his post-election remarks, disparaging polling firms for failing to gauge his support.

“I plan to make the right political alliances to win this election,” he told journalists, pointing to significant advances his party made in Congress in Sunday's general election.

His right-wing allies won 19 of the 27 seats that were up from grabs in the Senate, and initial returns suggested a strong showing for his base in the lower house.

Outside Mr Bolsonaro's family home in Rio de Janeiro's Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood the mood was upbeat.

Supporters of president Jair Bolsonaro gather in front of the condominium where the president has a house, in Barra da Tijuca, west zone of Rio, during presidential election day on Sunday. Getty

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

Although Mr da Silva left the presidency 12 years ago with record popularity, he is now disliked by many Brazilians after he was convicted of accepting bribes and jailed during the last election.

His conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing him to run again for president this year, along with nine other candidates from smaller parties.

Scandals

A career politician, Mr Bolsonaro rode a backlash against Mr da Silva Workers Party to victory in 2018, uniting strands of Brazil's right, from evangelical Christians to farming interests and pro-gun advocates.

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

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

Yet Sunday's vote shows his support is far from collapsing.

Mr da Silva's proposals for Brazil have been light on details, but he promises to improve the fortunes of Brazil's poor and working classes, as he did as president from 2003 to 2010, when he lifted millions out of poverty and burnished Brazil's global influence.

While in power, Mr da Silva'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 went to prison as part of a vast corruption scandal.

Mr da Silva spent 19 months in jail for bribery convictions that were thrown out by the Supreme Court last year.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 6:29 AM
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