Brazil’s elections enter the second round after Bolsonaro closed the gap on Lula

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro will face Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former leader of the left, in a runoff later this month after neither man managed to win in a tighter-than-expected presidential election.

Lula received more than 47 percent of the valid votes and failed to clear the 50 percent hurdle to claim victory in the first round.

Bolsonaro secured more than 43 percent of the vote, underscoring the resilience of his conservative political movement and confusing pollsters. A second vote will take place on October 30th.

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro follows the vote count in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening. © AFP via Getty Images

Ahead of Sunday’s election, the vast majority of opinion polls predict the right-wing populist would receive just about 36 percent of the vote on average. Some predicted that Lula would win straight away. Bolsonaro regularly calls the polls “worthless” and says he relies on “data from the people,” alluding to his big, vocal campaign rallies.

The remaining handful of candidates, including left winger Ciro Gomes and centrist Simone Tebet, both of whom scored in the low single digits, are out of the race.

The result leaves Brazilians nearly another month into the campaign, with both candidates likely to ramp up their attacks. The pollsters’ models showed Lula winning the runoff race by as much as 15 percentage points, although many will question those predictions after the unexpectedly close race on Sunday.

“The runoff will be very close. The right is doing better than expected, especially in São Paulo,” said Eduardo Mello, political scientist at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.

“Lula needs to get more votes from the middle. He will have to overcome his high rejection rate and show himself as a statesman and more moderate.”

Video: Brazil: a nation divided | FT movie

“Bolsonaro will now focus on attacks. He will focus on anti-Lula sentiment and sentiment against Lula’s Labor Party and its history of corruption,” said Mario Marconini, CEO of Teneo.

“Lula will continue his alliance-building policies and show that he is leading a pro-democracy movement. Then, slowly but surely, he could be more specific about what he will do in government.”

The two men dominated the election campaign, which was at times marred by political violence, including the assassination of three Labor Party supporters and a Bolsonaro supporter.

Although voters identified the economy as their top pre-election concern, none of the candidates have presented a coherent agenda to boost growth. The campaign was remarkably short on policy proposals but heavy on irritation and insults.

Lula’s supporters follow the vote count in São Paulo © AFP via Getty Images

Lula, a former union leader who rose to the presidency and served two terms between 2003 and 2010, has focused on the country’s high levels of poverty and hunger. He says estimates that 30 million Brazilians are suffering from food shortages are “unacceptable”.

Bolsonaro ran a campaign that focused on conservative values, emphasizing the importance of God, family and patriotism.

“Before Bolsonaro, the Brazilian left was clearly hegemonic and its competitors were either centrists or non-ideological parties. Now the ideological right is clearly here to stay,” Mello said.

The right-wing populist repeatedly claimed in the run-up to the election that Brazil’s electronic voting machines were vulnerable to fraud, leading opponents to fear he was preparing a justification for rejecting the result.

After Sunday’s vote, the President hinted at it again, saying, “I am sure that if there is a clean election, we will win with at least 60 percent of the vote.”

There are concerns that the polarized political climate could worsen as the second crucial round draws near.

“We can expect a fight, a lot of tension and the possibility that Bolsonaro will challenge the result of the polls in the second round will always be present, not least because it will only be him against Lula,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper, a university in São Paulo. Brazil’s elections enter the second round after Bolsonaro closed the gap on Lula

Adam Bradshaw

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