Former president Lula da Silva tops the first round as elections head to runoff against incumbent Bolsonaro, announced Brazil election authority.
Brazil’s top two presidential candidates will face each other in a runoff vote after neither got enough support to win outright on Sunday in an election to decide if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office.
With 98.8 percent of the votes tallied in Sunday's election, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had 48.1 percent support and incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro had 43.5 percent support. Brazil's election authority said the result made a second-round vote between the two candidates a mathematical certainty.
Nine other candidates were also competing, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva.
The tightness of the result came as a surprise, since pre-election polls had given da Silva a commanding lead. The last Datafolha survey published on Saturday found a 50 percent to 36 percent advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
“This tight difference between Lula and Bolsonaro wasn’t predicted,” said Nara Pavao, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco.
Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said, “It is too soon to go too deep, but this election shows Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 was not a hiccup.”
Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil’s southeast region, which includes populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, according to Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria.
“The polls didn’t capture that growth,” Cortez said.
'Polls can be manipulated'
Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.
But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.
While voting earlier Sunday, Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader in the capital Brasilia, sported the yellow Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have coopted for demonstrations. Melo said he is once again voting for Bolsonaro, who met his expectations, and he doesn’t believe the surveys that show him trailing.
“Polls can be manipulated. They all belong to companies with interests,” he said.
A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like several of its Latin American neighbors coping with high inflation and a vast number of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political left.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability not just of opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines.
Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to reject results.