Former left-wing president Lula came out on top in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday in Brazil, but outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro held up better than expected and a second round will take place to decide between them.
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Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, icon of the Brazilian left, won 47.97% of the vote, ahead of the far-right outgoing president, at 43.60%, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) announced in the evening, on the basis of the counting of 97.69% of the polling stations.
This narrow victory is disappointing for Lula, to whom the polls promised a large lead, even a triumph in the first round, which he wanted to celebrate on the great Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo.
He will have to face his sworn enemy in a second round, provided for by electoral law on October 30.
President Jair Bolsonaro held up much better than expected as polls showed him trailing far behind Lula in voting intentions (36% to 50%).
For the populist leader, who escaped a humiliating defeat in the first round, these four weeks can be an opportunity to galvanize his troops in the streets and find new momentum.
A second round means another month of a poisonous campaign that has tired millions of Brazilians since August.
The candidates traded plenty of personal insults and presented few plans for the future of Brazil, a deeply fractured country with immense challenges.
“It adds to the uncertainty,” Michael Shifter of Georgetown University told AFP, “it wouldn’t be surprising to see more unrest or violent incidents.”
“Lula will win”
In addition, many Bolsonarist candidates, including former government ministers, have been elected to Congress and as governors.
But in the Lulist camp, Viviane Laureano da Silva, a 36-year-old civil servant, remained confident: “The campaign will be difficult, but Lula will win in the second round,” she told AFP in Rio.
All day, Brazilians had rushed en masse to choose their president, but also the deputies, a third of the senators and the governors of the 27 states, with long queues.
The ballot in which 156 million voters had been called apparently took place without violence in the largest country in Latin America.
Two uncertainties weighed on this election day: could Lula be elected to a third term as president in the first round and would Bolsonaro challenge the result, as he had threatened to do for months.
“If the elections are clean, no problem. May the best win!” said President Bolsonaro, 67, voting in the morning in Rio de Janeiro.
Annoyed by the insistent questions from the press, Bolsonaro, dressed in the yellow and green jersey of the national football team under which he wore a bulletproof vest, had not wanted to say clearly whether he would recognize the result.
But the Brazilians punished the 67-year-old outgoing president less than expected for his denial of the Covid (685,000 dead), the economic crisis in a country where more than 30 million people suffer from hunger and the crises that have punctuated his entire mandate.
The left-wing ex-president (2003-2010) Lula, 76, himself has trouble getting rid of the image of corruption that has stuck with him since the huge “Lavage express” scandal, which earned 18 months in prison before his convictions were overturned or statute-barred.
“The most important election”
Lula followed the announcement of the results in a large hotel in Sao Paulo and Jair Bolsonaro at the presidency, in Brasilia.
“For me, this is the most important election,” said the former steelworker, voting in Sao Bernardo, a working-class suburb of Sao Paulo.
Lula is contesting his sixth presidential race, 12 years after leaving power with a stratospheric popularity rate (87%).
In the polling stations, voters often dressed in Bolsonarist yellow and green or Lulist red sometimes had to wait several hours to vote because of the crowds.
But the president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), Alexandre de Moraes, assured that the vote took place “without problem”, and wanted to “reaffirm the reliability and transparency” of the electronic ballot box system, many times criticized by Jair Bolsonaro.
More than 500,000 members of the security forces were mobilized to provide security for the ballot, which took place in the presence of dozens of foreign observers.