Brazil’s two main presidential candidates will face each other in a runoff after neither won enough support to win outright on Sunday in an election that will decide whether the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps far-right incumbent president in office.

With 99.5% of the vote counted in Sunday’s election, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won 48.3% and President Jair Bolsonaro 43.3%. Nine other candidates are also in the running, but their support is fading from that of Bolsonaro and da Silva.

The tension of the result came as a surprise as pre-election polls had given Silva a convincing lead. The latest Datafolha poll, published on Saturday, showed a 50% to 36% lead for Silva. 12,800 people were polled with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

“This stark difference between Lula and Bolsonaro was not predicted,” said Nara Pavan, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco.

Carlos Mello, a professor of political science at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said: “It’s too early to tell, but this election shows that Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 was not a hiccup.”

According to Rafael Cortes, who oversees political risk at the consultancy Tendencias Consultoria, Bolsonaro outperformed Brazil’s southeastern region, which includes the populous states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

Supporters of Brazilian President and re-election candidate Jair Bolsonaro react as they watch the counting of votes in the legislative and presidential elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 2, 2022.

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

According to Rafael Cortes, who oversees political risk at the consultancy Tendencias Consultoria, Bolsonaro outperformed Brazil’s southeastern region, which includes the populous states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

“The polls haven’t picked up on that growth,” Cortes said.

Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by inflammatory speeches, his testing of democratic institutions, his widespread criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most severe deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a loyal base by defending conservative values, rejecting political correctness and presenting himself as the nation’s defender against left-wing policies that he says are infringing on personal liberties and causing economic turmoil.

During the vote earlier on Sunday, Marley Mello, a 53-year-old trader from the capital of Brasilia, sported the yellow color of the Brazilian flag used by Bolsonaro and his supporters for demonstrations. Melo said he would vote again for Bolsonaro, who lived up to his expectations, and did not believe polls showing him lagging behind.

“Polls can be manipulated. They are all owned by vested interests,” he said.

The slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like some of its Latin American neighbors, which are dealing with high inflation and large numbers of people out of formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the left.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability not only of public opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork for the results to be rejected.

A supporter of former Brazilian president (2003-2010) and leftist Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva reacts as votes are counted in the legislative and presidential elections in Brasilia, Brazil, October 2, 2022.

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At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have evidence of fraud, but never produced it, even after election officials set a deadline to do so. Back on September 18, he said that if he doesn’t win in the first round, then something must be “abnormal”.

Da Silva, 76, was once a metal worker who rose from poverty to become president and is credited with creating a sweeping welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped move tens of millions into the middle class.

But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in large-scale corruption scandals involving politicians and business leaders.

His own corruption and money-laundering convictions led to a 19-month prison sentence, knocking him out of the 2018 presidential race, which polls show him leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later overturned Silva’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Social worker Nadia Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but has been voting for Bolsonaro since 2018.

“Unfortunately, the Labor Party has disappointed us. She promised to be different,” she said in Brasilia.

Others, like Marijalva Pereira, are more forgiving. She said she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.

“I didn’t like the scandals in his first administration, I never voted for the Labor Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unjustly imprisoned and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that everyone else looks better,” Pereira, 47, said.

Speaking after the vote in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a manufacturing center in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and could not vote.

Brazilians vote in the first round of presidential elections
Voters line up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the first round of the presidential election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.


Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the army. He entered politics after being forced to resign from the military for openly pushing for a pay rise for the military. During his seven terms as a lawmaker in the lower house of Congress, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two-decade military dictatorship.

His appeals to the armed forces have raised concerns that his possible rejection of the election results may be supported by senior leadership.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts from right-wing foreign politicians, including former US President Donald Trump, urging Brazilians to vote for him. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed gratitude for strengthening bilateral relations, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also praised him.

After the vote on Sunday morning, Bolsonaro told reporters that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. When asked if he would respect the results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

68-year-old Leda Wasem had no doubt that Bolsonaro would not just be re-elected. National soccer jersey At a polling station in downtown Curitiba, a real estate agent said Silva’s eventual victory could only have one explanation: fraud.

“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person who supports Lula,” she said.