It’s a success with a bad taste: In the presidential elections in Brazil this Sunday, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva got around 48 percent of the votes. The candidate from the left-wing Workers’ Party PT is surprisingly just ahead of his right-wing rival, the current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Around 43.5 percent of voters voted for him.
Surveys had actually predicted a large, sometimes even double-digit lead for Lula da Silva. Many supporters had even hoped that the left-wing politician could win more than 50 percent of the valid votes on Sunday – and thus win the election in the first round.
Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, on the other hand, had always questioned the polls. They now see the result of the election as a confirmation: the right-wing incumbent did much better than the opinion research institutes had predicted. After the election, Bolsonaro described the polls as a “lie”https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/. “I now have complete confidence in a win,” said the President. Even if he didn’t win, many see him as the big winner of the vote. There is now a runoff between him and Lula da Silva, which is scheduled for the end of October.
The victory was only postponed, said Lula da Silva to supporters in a hotel in São Paulo on Sunday evening after the results were announced: “I have 30 days more to campaign. We will win!”
But it’s also clear that Sunday’s result spells more anxious weeks for South America’s largest democracy. The elections are considered the most important in the country’s recent history. A total of eleven candidates lined up on Sunday, but it was clear in advance that the vote was the most important thing a duel would be between Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ruled Brazil before, from 2003 to 2010. Many Brazilians remember this period as the golden years: the country benefited from the high global demand for raw materials, the economy was booming and the left-wing government of Lula da Silva laid down big social programs.
Millions of people made it out of poverty back then, but a lot of money also disappeared into the pockets of corrupt politicians. Lula da Silva herself was sentenced to a long prison term for bribery in 2017, but the sentence was overturned in 2019. His supporters are hoping for a repeat of Brazil’s boom years. But Lula da Silva’s critics fear corruption and nepotism.
Brazil’s right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro deliberately fueled these fears. He was able to win the 2018 elections mainly because Lula da Silva was excluded from running for office because of his conviction. His tenure was marked by increasing deforestation figures in the Amazon rainforest and officially 700,000 victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolsonaro has always downplayed the dangers of the pandemic, calling the virus a “flu” and warning of alleged side effects of vaccines.
Both camps are irreconcilably opposed. Brazil’s right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has promised to sell state-owned oil company Petrobras and further relax gun laws if he wins. He also wants to open protected areas in the Amazon for mining. The left-wing candidate Lula da Silva, on the other hand, wants to introduce higher taxes for the rich and raise the minimum wage.
Incumbent Jair Bolsonaro voted in Rio de Janeiro early this morning. He was wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national football team, which has become a symbol of recognition for his supporters. Lula da Silva, on the other hand, cast his vote in São Bernardo de Campo, not far from the union headquarters where he began his political career in the 1970s. “The majority of society no longer wants confrontation, but peace,” said the left-wing ex-president.
In the weeks and months leading up to the election, there had been repeated violent clashes. In mid-July, a supporter of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro shot dead a member of Lula da Silva’s Labor Party in Foz do Iguaçu, southern Brazil. Then, in September, another man died after a dispute between two work colleagues over politics.
There was therefore great fear that riots and violence could also occur on Sunday, also because President Jair Bolsonaro had repeatedly threatened indirectly not to recognize defeat. “Only God can get me out of the presidency,” the right-wing head of state had publicly declared several times before the election. And when asked whether he would accept the result in the event of a defeat, Jair Bolsonaro answered ambiguously on Sunday: “If the elections are clean: yes.”
The elections were, however, largely calm. In Sao Paulo Two armed men broke into a polling station and shot at two police officers stationed there. The two men were taken to hospital with serious injuries, but voting continued at the polling station. In southern Brazil, a voter also attacked a police officer after casting his vote, this time with a knife.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, 156 million people were asked not only to elect a new head of state, but also senators, governors and members of parliament at the local and federal level. Despite compulsory voting and the historical dimension of the vote around 32 million voters stayed away from the polls, which corresponds to a fifth of the voters. Voter turnout has not been this low since 1998.
Brazil has an electronic voting system. Immediately after the polls closed at 5 p.m. local time in the capital Brasília, the count began. Initially, Jair Bolsonaro was ahead. Many regions considered Lula da Silva strongholds were a little late in submitting results. At around 8 p.m., the candidate on the left finally overtook the incumbent on the right. Cheers broke out in the headquarters of Lula’s Labor Party (PT) in many Brazilian cities.
But around 9 p.m. it became clear that a victory in the first round was mathematically no longer possible for Lula da Silva and that there would be a runoff.
Jair Bolsonaro in particular has now gained valuable time: Thanks to extensive aid payments from his government, the tense economic situation in Brazil has improved in recent weeks. This trend will most likely continue and could result in Bolsonaro gaining voters.
In the following weeks, both candidates will try to convince the voters of the losing other candidates. Whoever wins in the end, one thing is certain: difficult times are ahead for Brazil.