Former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won Brazil’s bitterly-fought election on Sunday, according to pollster Datafolha, denying far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro a second term.
The polling firm called the election with 95% of the votes counted in Latin America’s largest country. The official count stood at 50.7% of votes for Lula against 49.3% for Bolsonaro.
A significant number of votes still remained to be counted in the Bolsonaro stronghold state of Sao Paulo, but his leftist rival was inching ahead in a runoff marred by accusations from Lula’s Workers Party that police suppressed votes in some regions.
The election serves as a referendum on two starkly different – and vehemently opposed – visions for Brazil’s future.
Bolsonaro has vowed to consolidate a sharp rightward turn in Brazilian politics after a presidency that witnessed one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the pandemic and widespread deforestation in the Amazon basin.
Bolsonaro has without proof described the voting system as fraud-prone, raising concern he may not concede defeat, following the example of his ideological ally, former U.S. President Donald Trump.
That has added to tensions in Brazil’s most polarizing election since its return to democracy in 1985 after a military dictatorship that Lula, a former union leader, rallied against and Bolsonaro, a former army captain, invokes with nostalgia.
Lula allies on Sunday said police had stopped buses carrying voters on highways even though the electoral authority had prohibited them from doing so. Brazilian media reported that such operations were concentrated in the northeast, where Lula has the strongest support.
“What happened today is criminal. There is no justification for the (police) to mount roadblocks on Election Day,” Workers Party President Gleisi Hoffman told journalists.
However, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), which runs Brazil’s elections, said no one had been prevented from voting and declined to extend voting hours. The Federal Highway Police said they had complied with court orders.
With Bolsonaro stickers on her chest, Rio de Janeiro resident Ana Maria Vieira said she was certain to vote for the president, and would never countenance picking Lula.
“I saw what Lula and his criminal gang did to this country,” she said, as she arrived to vote in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood, adding that she thought Bolsonaro’s handling of the economy had been “fantastic.”
A Lula victory would mark a stunning comeback for the leftist leader, who was jailed in 2018 for 19 months on bribery convictions that the Supreme Court overturned last year, clearing the way for him to seek a third presidential term.
In Sao Paulo, 31-year-old lawyer Gerardo Maiar said he was horrified by what Bolsonaro had done as president.
“The last four years were an embarrassment, both nationally and internationally,” he said after voting. “I think it’s ridiculous for Brazil to be in this shameful position.”