Lula wins the Brazilian presidential election in a historic comeback

Lula wins the Brazilian presidential election in a historic comeback

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has clinched victory in Brazil’s presidential election, beating incumbent right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro by less than two percentage points, setting the stage for a return to left-wing government in Latin America’s largest nation.

The narrow result on Sunday rounds off a dramatic comeback lula, who served two terms as president between 2003 and 2010 but was subsequently accused of corruption. He was in prison for bribery before his convictions were overturned.

“From January 2023, I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, not just those who voted for me. We are one people, one country, one great nation,” the 77-year-old politician said after his victory in a speech that focused on democracy and the importance of enabling Brazilians to lead a dignified life.

“We don’t want to fight anymore. We’re tired of seeing each other as enemies,” he added.

Bolsonaro still hadn’t conceded as of Monday morning, and almost all of his close allies were also silent on social media.

Lula’s victory follows a bitter campaign marred by fake news and violence in an atmosphere of polarization, raising concerns of post-election conflict.

After a tense vote count, supporters of the former locksmith from impoverished northeastern Brazil took to the streets to celebrate, shouting his name from apartment windows, honking his horn and setting off fireworks.

His victory ended a long campaign that ended four years of conservative populism under Bolsonaro. It is the latest in a series of races that have eliminated incumbents across Latin AmericaReturn mainly left leaders.

“This is the most important election I have ever attended,” said Brenda Santos Cunha, a publicist who was among the revelers on Avenida Paulista, the main boulevard through São Paulo. “The last few years have been barbaric, it’s been insane. I don’t expect Lula’s government to be revolutionary, but I hope it gives some hope, a moment to breathe.”

Supporters of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in São Paulo cheer on Sunday
Supporters of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in São Paulo cheer after Sunday’s vote count © Mauro Horita/Getty Images

Lula won 50.9 percent of the vote versus 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro after a three-hour cliffhanger count. Overall, the left winger won 60.3 million votes, just over 2 million more than his rival. He will take office on January 1 and faces a great challenge to unite a deeply divided nation.

Ahead of the vote, Bolsonaro insisted BrazilThe electronic voting machines were susceptible to fraud, leading opponents to fear he was preparing a justification for rejecting a losing result.

He has claimed in recent days that rulings by the country’s electoral court had affected his election campaign.

Arthur Lira, speaker of the lower house of Congress and one of the few Bolsonaro allies to speak out publicly, said it was “time to defuse passions and reach out to opponents.” He added: “Everything that will be done from now on will have one principle – to pacify the country and bring quality of life to the Brazilian people.”

Tathiana Chicarino, a political scientist, said a challenge for Lula will be “dealing with the part of the electorate that voted for Bolsonaro, particularly his radical base.”

During the campaign, Lula focused on the risks to democracy posed by Bolsonaro’s far-right movement, portraying the election as a choice between “democracy and fascism, democracy and barbarism.”

He also took aim at the high levels of poverty and hunger in the country, saying that estimates that 30 million Brazilians are suffering from food shortages are “unacceptable”.

Lula has promised to remove a constitutional spending cap so the government can spend more on social projects and infrastructure. He has offered few details on his broader economic agenda and his rhetoric has unsettled some investors.

On the environment, he has pledged to end illegal logging of the Amazon after the world’s largest rainforest was severely destroyed under Bolsonaro.

“[Lula] will take over the country after Bolsonaro and his group attempted to deconstruct most of the existing public policies,” said Maria do Socorro Braga, a political scientist at the Federal University of São Carlos. “He will have to lead the country back to democratic stability and try to reduce social inequalities.”

After three failed attempts, Lula won the presidency for the first time in 2003, serving two terms during a heady period of resource-driven growth.

He won international recognition for reducing poverty in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

However, his reputation was tarnished by the Lava Jato Corruption scandal that rocked Brazil’s economic and political establishment as the economy slipped into a deep recession under his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff.

Lula served nearly two years in prison before his transplant charge was overturned by the Supreme Court. He always claimed the investigation was a political witch hunt.

Lula’s agenda is likely to face obstacles in the largely right-wing Congress. “He has to be a centrist who listens to everyone. His alliances show that he is already like that,” says Mario Marconini, Managing Director of Teneo.

Presidents Joe Biden of the US and Emmanuel Macron of France were among the first world leaders to congratulate Lula. Biden stressed the elections were “free, fair and credible,” while Macron said Lula’s win “opens a new page in Brazilian history.”

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