Brazil’s acrimonious presidential race will go to a second round after the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva failed to secure the overall majority he needed to avoid a run-off with the far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
With 98.1% of votes counted the leftist veteran had secured 48.04% of the vote, not enough to avoid the 30 October show down with his right-wing rival. Bolsonaro, who significantly out-performed pollsters’ predictions and will be buoyed by the result, received 43.54%.
Speaking on the eve of the election Lula said he was hopeful of a first round win but would redouble his efforts to reclaim power if a second round was needed.
“I feel great hope that this election will be decided tomorrow, but if it isn’t we’ll have to behave like a football team when a match goes to extra time. We’ll rest for 15 minutes and then we’ll get back out onto the pitch to score the goals we didn’t score in normal time,” he told reporters.
Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of Lula’s Workers’ party, told reporters the campaign was neither “sad or downcast” at the result and pointed to Lula’s more than 56 million votes.
“Congratulations President Lula for your victory,” she declared.
But the election result was a major blow to progressive Brazilians who had been rooting for an emphatic victory over Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has repeatedly attacked the country’s democratic institutions and vandalized Brazil’s international reputation.
Bolsonaro is also accused of wreaking havoc on the environment and catastrophically mishandling a Covid epidemic that killed nearly 700,000 Brazilians, by undermining vaccination and containment efforts and peddling quack cures.
As she cast her vote for Lula on Sunday morning in São Paulo, restaurant host Gabriela Leoncio said of Bolsonaro’s administration: “It’s been a joke-slash-tragedy.”
Despite that, Bolsonaro confounded the forecasts of pollsters in several key states, including Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Prominent Bolsonaristas were elected to Brazil’s congress and as state governors, including Bolsonaro’s former health minister, Eduardo Pazzuelo, who became a congressman for Rio, and his former environment minister Ricardo Salles.
Rio’s Bolsonaro-supporting governor Cláudio Castro was re-elected while one of Bolsonaro’s most controversial former ministers, the evangelical preacher Damares Alves, claimed a place in the senate.
Tarcísio de Freitas, Bolsonaro’s candidate for the governorship of São Paulo, also performed better than pollsters predicted and will face Lula’s ally Fernando Haddad in a second round.
“The far-right will be thrilled,” said the political scientist Christian Lynch.
Thiago Amparo, an academic and columnist for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, said the right’s stronger-than-forecast showing showed Bolsonaro and Bolsonarismo were “alive and kicking”.
“There was a feeling among the left that Lula had a chance to win in the first round … the results show that it was wishful thinking to imagine the election would serve as a way to punish Bolsonaro for his disastrous policies during the pandemic. “
“I feel exhausted,” Amparo added. “But the results show we don’t have the time to rest now. It is time to go out onto the streets… otherwise we are going to have a very dark future again.”
“I think Bolsonaro has the momentum,” said Thomas Traumann, a Rio de Janeiro-based political observer, although he believed Lula was still the favourite. “It’s a very disappointing night for the left.”
There was defiance from Lula and his allies as the right-wing successes and the need for a second round became clear.