Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has done it again. Twenty years after first winning the Brazilian presidency, the leftist defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro Sunday in an extremely tight election that marks an about-face for the country after four years of far-right politics.
With more than 99% of the votes tallied in the runoff vote, da Silva had 50.9% and Bolsonaro 49.1%, and the election authority said da Silva’s victory was a mathematical certainty.
It is a stunning reversal for da Silva, 77, whose 2018 imprisonment over a corruption scandal sidelined him from the 2018 election that brought Bolsonaro, a defender of conservative social values, to power.
Da Silva is promising to govern beyond his leftist Workers’s Party. He wants to bring in centrists and even some leaning to the right who voted for him for the first time, and to restore the country’s more prosperous past. Yet he faces headwinds in a politically polarised society where economic growth is slowing and inflation is soaring.
His victory marks the first time since Brazil’s 1985 return to democracy that the sitting president has failed to win reelection. The highly polarised election in Latin America’s biggest economy extended a wave of recent leftist victories in the region, including Chile, Colombia and Argentina.
Da Silva’s inauguration is scheduled to take place on Jan 1. He last served as president from 2003-2010.
It was the country’s closest election in over three decades. Just over 2 million votes separated the two candidates with 99.5% of the vote counted. The previous closest race, in 2014, was decided by a margin of 3.46 million votes.
Thomas Traumann, an independent political analyst, compared the results to US President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, saying da Silva is inheriting an extremely divided nation.
“The huge challenge that Lula has will be to pacify the country,” he said. “People are not only polarised on political matters, but also have different values, identity and opinions. What’s more, they don’t care what the other side’s values, identities and opinions are.”
Bolsonaro had been leading throughout the first half of the count and, as soon as da Silva overtook him, cars in the streets of downtown Sao Paulo began honking their horns. People in the streets of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema neighbourhood could be heard shouting, “It turned!”
Da Silva’s headquarters in downtown Sao Paulo hotel only erupted once the final result was announced, underscoring the tension that was a hallmark of this race.
“Four years waiting for this,” said Gabriela Souto, one of the few supporters allowed in due to heavy security.
Outside Bolsonaro’s home in Rio de Janeiro, ground-zero for his support base, a woman atop a truck delivered a prayer over a speaker, then sang excitedly, trying to generate some energy. But supporters decked out in the green and yellow of the flag barely responded. Many perked up when the national anthem played, singing along loudly with hands over their hearts.
Most opinion polls before the election gave a lead to da Silva, universally known as Lula, though political analysts agreed the race grew increasingly tight in recent weeks.