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 runoff with the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro.
With more than 99.5% of votes counted the leftist veteran had secured 48.3% of the vote, not enough to avoid the 30 October show down with his rightwing rival. Bolsonaro, who significantly out-performed pollsters’ predictions and will be buoyed by the result, received 43.3%.
Addressing the media at a hotel in central São Paulo, Lula, who was president from 2003 until 2010, struck a defiant tone, declaring: “The struggle continues until our final victory.
“We are going to win these elections – this for us is simply extra time,” vowed Lula, who was barred from the 2018 election in which Bolsonaro was elected, on corruption charges that were later overturned.
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 on to 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 56m 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 vandalised 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.
Speaking on Sunday night, Bolsonaro promised to devote more time to convincing the poorest sectors of society they will be better off under a far-right government than a leftist one.
The far-right leader said: “I understand there were a lot of votes (cast) because of the condition of the Brazilian people, who feel prices increases, especially basic products. I understand that a lot of people desire change but some changes can be for the worst.”
“We tried to show this other side in the campaign but it seems like it didn’t register with the most important layers of society.”
He once again said Brazil must avoid following neighbouring nations such as Chile and Colombia who recently elected leftist leaders but he pointedly refused to answer questions about possible voter fraud, after spending months casting aspersions on the security of the electronic voting machines.
Bolsonaro has hinted he will not leave office if defeated, raising concerns of a Trump-like insurrection among his supporters if Lula wins.
Prominent Bolsonaristas were elected to Brazil’s congress and as state governors, including Bolsonaro’s former health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, who became a congressman for Rio, and his former environment minister Ricardo Salles.
Pazuello was Bolsonaro’s health minister during the height of the pandemic that led to more than 685,000 deaths in Brazil. A former military general, he promoted quack cures such as hydroxychloroquine.
Salles, meanwhile, was the environment minister who presided over a sharp rise in Amazonian deforestation. A federal police investigation accused the far-right ideologue of making it difficult for environmental crimes to be investigated. A separate inquiry said he was linked to illegal logging exports. He denied all the charges.
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 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 do not have the time to rest now. It is time to go out on to 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 determination from Lula and his allies as the rightwing successes and the need for a second round became clear.
“I think this is a chance that the Brazilian people are giving me,” said Lula before heading to a celebration with his supporters on São Paulo’s Paulista avenue. “The campaign begins tomorrow.”
In Rio de Janeiro’s city centre, a massive crowd of people, mostly clad in red, drank beer and danced samba as they awaited the final tally to appear on a screen overlooking the square.
But the jubilant mood dampened when results showed Lula still nearly 2% shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff duel with Bolsonaro.
“I’m disappointed,” said Kharine Gil, a 23-year-old university student. “Because we saw that Bolsonaro is stronger than we thought he was.”
Elaine Azevedo, a 34-year-old security systems worker, looked defeated as she stared up at the towering screen showing the results.
“I feel despair, pure despair,” said Azevedo, who was clad in red from head to toe and sported a hat with Lula’s name on it. “We all thought Lula would win easily.”
But at a neighbourhood bar about a block away, Eudacio Queiroz Alves, a 65-year-old retired driver, was celebrating.
“We expected this,” he said. “The people are with Bolsonaro. I’m confident that he will win.”