Veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was re-elected president of Brazil on Sunday, marking a spectacular political comeback that saw him overcome far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a bitterly divided, down-to-the-wire runoff election.
After months of claiming — without providing any evidence — that Brazil’s electronic voting system is rife with fraud and that the courts, media, and other institutions have conspired against his far-right movement, all eyes will now be on how Bolsonaro and his supporters react to the official result.
The triumph is a spectacular reversal for former metalworker Lula: he was imprisoned for 18 months on contentious corruption accusations in 2010 when he was the most popular president in Brazilian history, and now, at age 77, he is running for an unprecedented third term.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro, the virulent hardline conservative called the “Tropical Trump,” is the first sitting president to lose re-election since Brazil restored democracy at the end of its military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
With more than 99 percent of polling places reporting, electoral authorities proclaimed Lula the winner with 51 percent of the vote over Bolsonaro’s 49 percent.
– ‘Restore peace’ –
Supporters of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), decked out in the party’s signature red, erupted in joy in cities throughout the nation, letting off vibrant fireworks in Rio de Janeiro and breaking into thunderous shouts in Sao Paulo.
In Sao Paulo, the country’s financial center, a beaming Lula met jubilant fans and tweeted the phrase “Democracy” next to a photo of the Brazilian flag.
Tearful Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside the government building in the capital city of Brasilia, dressed in the green and yellow of the flag that the former army captain has embraced as his own. They bowed to beg for a change of heart.
Four years ago, Bolsonaro rode a wave of outrage to victory with politics as usual. Still, he has since faced criticism for handling the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 680,000 people in Brazil, and his weak economy, divisive personality, and attacks on democratic institutions.
Many worries that Brazil might see riots similar to those that shook the US when Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s political idol, lost the 2020 election.
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Regardless of how Bolsonaro responds, Lula will face formidable obstacles as soon as he takes office on January 1.
In the first round of voting on October 2, Bolsonaro’s far-right supporters won a significant victory in the governor and legislature contests, making them the dominant force in Congress.
After casting his ballot in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the city in the southeast where he first gained notoriety as a union leader, Lula said that he would seek to mend the rifts caused by the divisive campaign.
He spoke to reporters while wearing a white shirt and was flanked by allies who were also wearing white. “One of the aspirations that motivated me become a candidate in this election was to restore peace among Brazilians,” he said.
Particularly on the crucial battlefield of social media, the campaign devolved into an orgy of mudslinging, attack advertisements, and misinformation.
– Huge challenges –
There was little room in the mud for real problems like the economy, the widespread loss of the Amazon rainforest, and the 33 million hungry Brazilians.
In contrast to the “super-cycle” in the commodities market that enabled him to steer Latin America’s largest economy through a historic boom in the 2000s, Lula inherits a bitterly divided nation that faces very challenging global economic conditions.
Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, tweeted that Lula’s victory represents “one of the largest comebacks in modern political history.”
Winter told AFP that the famous but tainted left-wing hero would also have “a weak government.”
According to him, the outcome signals “an effort to turn back the clock to the 2000s.”
“The issue is that the past cannot be repeated. A powerful, resurgent conservative movement is present in Brazil. Lula will be scrutinized from the start and will have to deal with a hostile Congress.”
For the time being, none of it mattered to the delighted Lula fans.
“After four years of darkness, Brazil is beginning to rise erect once again. We were experiencing a lot of issues and dread “Developer Larissa Meneses, 34, revealed to AFP during a triumphant win celebration in Sao Paulo.
“I really think that now that Lula has won, things will start to improve. Today is a day for plenty of laughter.”