Brazil election: Lula wins presidency, defeats Bolsonaro

Brazilian leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated President Jair Bolsonaro in a runoff election, but the far-right incumbent had not conceded defeat by Monday morning, raising concerns he might contest the result.

Tens of thousands of jubilant supporters took to the streets of Sao Paulo to celebrate a stunning comeback for the 77-year-old former metalworker who, following his previous two-term 2003-2010 presidency, served prison time for corruption convictions that were later annulled.

Bolsonaro is the first Brazilian incumbent to lose a presidential election and Lula has vowed to overturn his legacy, including pro-gun policies and weak protection of the Amazon rainforest.

Pitching the contest as a battle for democracy after his rival made baseless claims the electoral system was open to fraud, Lula called the election a sign Brazilians “want more and not less democracy,” in a victory speech that celebrated what he called his “resurrection.” He promised to unite a deeply divided country.

“I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me,” Lula said at his campaign headquarters. “There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, one great nation.”

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) declared Lula won 50.9% of the votes, against 49.1% for Bolsonaro. Lula’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 1.

The result in Latin America’s largest nation means the left will govern all the region’s major economies after a string of electoral successes from Mexico to Argentina in recent years.

A source in the Bolsonaro campaign told Reuters the president would not make public remarks until Monday. The Bolsonaro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

“So far, Bolsonaro has not called me to recognize my victory, and I don’t know if he will call or if he will recognize my victory,” Lula told supporters on Sao Paulo’s Paulista Avenue.

In contrast to Bolsonaro’s silence, congratulations for Lula poured in from foreign leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Markets braced for a volatile week ahead, with Brazil’s real currency and international listings of Brazilian stocks falling as investors gauged speculation about Lula’s cabinet and the risk of Bolsonaro questioning results.

One close Bolsonaro ally, lawmaker Carla Zambelli, in an apparent nod to the results, wrote on Twitter, “I PROMISE you, I will be the greatest opposition that Lula has ever imagined.”

The vote was a rebuke to the fiery far-right populism of Bolsonaro, who emerged from the back benches of Congress to forge a conservative coalition but lost support as Brazil ran up one of the worst death tolls of the coronavirus pandemic.

International election observers said Sunday’s election was conducted efficiently. One observer told Reuters that military auditors did not find any flaws in the integrity tests they did of the voting system.

PINK TIDE RISING

Lula’s win consolidates a new “pink tide” in Latin America, after landmark leftist victories in Colombia and Chile’s elections, echoing a regional political shift two decades ago that introduced Lula to the world stage.

He has vowed a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped lift millions out of poverty during two terms as president from 2003 to 2010. He also promises to combat the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, now at a 15-year high, and make Brazil a leader in global climate talks.

“These were four years of hatred, of negation of science,” Ana Valeria Doria, 60, a doctor in Rio de Janeiro celebrated with a drink. “It won’t be easy for Lula to manage the division in this country. But for now, it’s pure happiness.” A former union leader born into poverty, Lula’s two-term presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom and he left office with record popularity.

However, his Workers Party was later tarred by a deep recession and a record-breaking corruption scandal that jailed him for 19 months on bribery convictions, which were overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

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