Brazil election: Lula beats Bolsonaro to become president once more

More than 156 million voters chose between two starkly different visions for their country

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in an election that marked a stunning comeback for the leftist leader and the end of the country's most right-wing government in decades.

Lula, as Mr da Silva is popularly known, had 50.8 per cent of votes compared with 49.2 per cent for Mr Bolsonaro, with 99.1 per cent of voting machines counted.

The Supreme Electoral Court said that was enough to "mathematically define" the outcome of the race.

The vote was a rebuke for the far-right populism of Mr Bolsonaro, who emerged from the back benches of Congress to forge a conservative coalition but lost support as Brazil had one of the worst death tolls of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 156 million voters chose between two starkly different visions for their country.

Mr da Silva, 77, who governed Brazil between 2003 and 2011, has campaigned on memories of past prosperity, and promotes his previous experience in office as a means to heal the nation’s deep divisions and end hunger.

He has pledged a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped to lift millions out of poverty when he governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010.

He also promises to combat destruction of the Amazon rainforest, now at a 15-year high, and make Brazil a leader in global climate talks.

Mr da Silva's victory consolidates a new "pink tide" in Latin America, after landmark leftist victories in Colombian and Chilean elections, echoing a regional political shift two decades ago that introduced Mr da Silva to the world stage.

Mr Bolsonaro, 67, a former army captain whose style is frequently compared to Donald Trump’s, drew on deep support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector and evangelical community.

He had pledged to bring Christian values to the top levels of power while cutting bureaucratic red tape to spur growth.

The clash between the country’s two largest political personalities has resulted in a bitter, and at times violent contest that has raised concern among electoral authorities and international allies.

An electronic voting machine at a polling station near Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro's biggest favela, on Sunday. AFP

Both candidates claimed their opponent would do irreparable harm.

Mr Bolsonaro claimed his leftist rival would throw Latin America’s largest economy down a path similar to those of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Mr da Silva said the far-right president would gut democratic institutions if granted another four-year term.

A former union leader born into poverty, Mr da Silva organised strikes against Brazil's military government in the 1970s.

His two-term presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom and he left office with record popularity.

But his Workers' Party was later tarred by a deep recession and a record-breaking corruption scandal for which he was jailed for 19 months on bribery convictions that were overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

In his third term, Mr da Silva will confront a sluggish economy, tighter budget constraints and a more hostile legislature.

Mr Bolsonaro's allies form the largest bloc in Congress after this month's general election revealed the enduring strength of his conservative coalition.

He has repeatedly made baseless claims of electoral fraud and last year openly discussed refusing to accept the results of the vote.

Electoral authorities are bracing for him to dispute the outcome, sources told Reuters, and security plans have been made in case his supporters take to the streets.

Days before Sunday’s vote, Mr Bolsonaro intensified attacks on electoral authorities, claiming his campaign was not getting equal access to the airwaves, stoking fears that he may be planning to contest the vote.

He has previously said he will not step down if fraud affects the results, setting up a potential repeat of what followed the 2020 US presidential election.

— News agencies contributed to this report

Updated: October 31, 2022, 4:55 PM
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