Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fought his way through to a runoff election against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Oct. 30, with his leftist challenger garnering the bigger share of votes on Sunday but falling short of the first-round win that some opinion polls had suggested he was headed for.
Lula, as he is universally known, took 48% to Bolsonaro’s 44%, Brazil’s electoral court said, with 96% of votes counted as of 9:03 p.m.
That tally leaves Lula without the simple majority needed for victory and sets the two up for a bruising face off in what has already been a divisive election campaign.
The outcome still puts Lula, 76, within reach of a another stint at the helm of Latin America’s largest economy — he was president from 2003-2010. Brazilians face surging consumer prices and the economy is only just coming out of a pandemic-induced economic slump during Bolsonaro’s tenure. Lula, in contrast, stirs memories of past prosperity.
But it’s a closer margin than Lula would have wanted, and gives Bolsonaro, 67, four weeks to try to build momentum. Both candidates are pledging to keep and expand on social aid approved in the last stretch of the campaign to offset the pain of high prices.
Bolsonaro’s stronger-than-expected showing will likely give a boost to Brazilian assets, which had underperformed as polls signaled Lula could win outright on Sunday.
Even if Lula does win in the second round he may have a weaker mandate to pursue his left-wing agenda than some experts have anticipated, and face a less amenable Congress. In the Senate, many candidates supporting Bolsonaro were on track to win or already elected, including Vice President Hamilton Mourao, former Human Rights Minister Damares Alves, and former Science Minister Marcos Pontes. Bolsonaro’s allies won the race for governor in at least nine states.
“All that is certain is that the far-right is extremely strong,” according to Carlos Melo, a political scientist at the Insper University in Sao Paulo. “And Jair Bolsonaro goes into the second round in a position of strength.”
A nationalist in the model of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro repeatedly called the electoral process into question even before the ballot, casting doubt on an electronic voting system that officials insist is robust and fair, and he may yet claim voter fraud for his inability to win outright in the first round. Electoral officials said voting on Sunday was largely peaceful.
Bia Kicis, a lawmaker and an ally of Bolsonaro in congress, pushed back on the idea of rallying supporters behind claims of electoral fraud, saying the campaign will focus in the remaining weeks on trying to win back voters in the political center.