Lula wins Brazil’s bitter presidential vote, Bolsonaro silent


Brasília, OCT 31: Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for “peace and unity” after narrowly winning a divisive runoff election Sunday, capping a remarkable political comeback by defeating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro — who has yet to accept defeat.

The victory marks a stunning turnaround for the charismatic but tarnished leftist heavyweight, who left office in 2010 as the most popular president in Brazilian history, fell into disgrace when he was imprisoned for 18 months on since-quashed corruption charges and now returns for an unprecedented third term at age 77.

All eyes will now be on how Bolsonaro and his supporters react to the result after months of alleging — without evidence — that Brazil’s electronic voting system is plagued by fraud and that the courts, media and other institutions had conspired against his far-right movement.

“This country needs peace and unity,” Lula said to loud cheers in a victory speech in Sao Paulo.

“The challenge is immense,” he said of the job ahead, citing a hunger crisis, the economy, bitter political division and deforestation in the Amazon.

He later addressed a tightly packed crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters clad in Workers’ Party red who flooded the city centre, vowing: “Democracy is back.”

‘He hasn’t called yet’

Bolsonaro, 67, was silent in the hours after the result was declared.

“Anywhere in the world, the losing president would already have called to admit defeat. He hasn’t called yet, I don’t know if he will call and concede,” Lula told the massive crowd.

Some Bolsonaro supporters, gathered in the capital Brasilia, refused to accept the results.

“The Brazilian people aren’t going to swallow a faked election and hand our nation over to a thief,” said 50-year-old teacher Ruth da Silva Barbosa.

Electoral officials declared the election for Lula, who had 50.9 per cent of the vote to 49.1pc for Bolsonaro with more than 99.9pc of polling stations reporting, in the closest race since Brazil returned to democracy after its 1964-1985 dictatorship.

Bolsonaro, the vitriolic hardline conservative dubbed the “Tropical Trump”, becomes the first incumbent president not to win re-election in the post-dictatorship era.

With no word from Bolsonaro, some of his key allies appeared in public to accept the results. They included the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira, who said it was time to “extend a hand to our adversaries, debate, build bridges.”

‘Restore peace’

Congratulations for Lula poured in from US President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi, Britain’s Rishi Sunak and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, as well as leaders from across Latin America.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also extended his congratulations to Lula, saying that he wished him great success and looked forward to working with him to enhance bilateral relations between Brazil and Pakistan.

“We share consensus on the dangers of climate change,” he added.

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, joined the international well-wishers, as did China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Lula supporters around the country erupted into celebration on Sunday evening.

“We’ve had four years of a genocidal, hateful government,” said Maria Clara, a 26-year-old student, at a victory party in downtown Rio.

“Today democracy won and the possibility of dreaming of a better country again.”

In Brasilia, the tearful crowd of Bolsonaro supporters — outfitted in green and yellow, the colours of Brazil’s flag which the ex-army captain has adopted as his own — fell to their knees to pray.

Bolsonaro surged to victory four years ago on a wave of outrage with politics as usual but came under fire for his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic — which left more than 680,000 dead in Brazil — as well as a weak economy, his polarising style and attacks on democratic institutions.

Regardless of how the incumbent reacts, Lula will face huge challenges when he is inaugurated on January 1.

Bolsonaro’s far-right allies scored big victories in legislative and governors’ races in the first-round election on October 2 and will be the largest force in Congress.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro’s former infrastructure minister Tarcisio de Freitas clinched the governorship of Sao Paulo, the most populous and wealthiest state in the country.