Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is set to become the next president of Brazil.
The leftist former President, widely known as “Lula,” has gained 50.83% of the votes, with over 98% of the votes counted in a fiercely contested run-off election on Sunday.
It was a tight race, with incumbent Jair Bolsonaro being denied a second term as he mustered 49.17% votes.
The two candidates had previously gone head to head in a first round of voting on October 2, but neither gained more than half of the votes, forcing Sunday’s runoff vote, which has become a referendum on two starkly different visions for Brazil.
More than 156 million people were eligible to vote in this year’s election. The candidates themselves voted early on Sunday, with Lula voting at a public school in the São Paulo metro Area and Bolsonaro casting his ballot in Rio de Janeiro early on Sunday morning.
Wearing a yellow and green T-shirt, the colors of the Brazilian flag, Bolsonaro said “God willing, we’ll be victorious later today. Or even better, Brazil will be victorious,” as he voted at a polling station in the Marechal Hermes district of the city.
Lula da Silva supporters thronged São Paulo Avenida Paulista on Sunday evening after polls closed. The mood was celebratory even before the results were called, with street-side vendors selling beer and food.
The election came amid a tense and polarized political climate in Brazil. The country is currently struggling with high inflation, limited growth and rising poverty.
Both candidates had used this election to attack one another at every turn, and rising anger has overshadowed the polls and clashes among their supporters left many voters feeling fearful of what is to come. Voters in Sao Paulo told CNN that they were keen to end this election season as soon as possible so the country can move on.
While there were no reports of political violence on Sunday, Lula da Silva allies accused the police of blocking buses and cars carrying Lula voters from getting to voting sites. 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, Reuters reports. The Federal Highway Police said they had complied with court orders, it added.
Lula da Silva was president for two terms, from 2003 to 2006 and 2007 to 2011, where he led the country through a commodities boom that helped fund huge social welfare programs and lifted millions out of poverty.
He left office with a 90% approval rating – a record tarnished however by Brazil’s largest corruption probe, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” which led to charges against hundreds of high-ranking politicians and businesspeople across Latin America. He was convicted for corruption and money laundering in 2017, but a court threw out his conviction in March 2021, clearing the way for his political rebound.
Bolsonaro ran for president in 2018 with the conservative Liberal Party, campaigning as a political outsider and anti-corruption candidate, and gaining the moniker “Trump of the Tropics.” A divisive figure, Bolsonaro has become known for his bombastic statements and conservative agenda, which is supported by important evangelical leaders in the country.
But poverty has grown during his presidency, and his popularity levels took a hit over his handling of the pandemic, which he dismissed as the “little flu,” before the virus killed more than 680,000 people in the country.
Environmentalists have warned that the future of the rainforest could be at stake in this election. Bolsonaro’s government has become known for its support of ruthless exploitation of land in the Amazon, leading to record deforestation figures.