Brazil votes in tense election: Bolsonaro vs Lula

Deeply divided Brazil will hold a deciding vote in four weeks’ time after far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro performed more strongly than expected in Sunday’s presidential poll.

With 99.8 percent of voting machines counted, left-wing challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had 48.4 percent of valid votes, compared with 43.3 percent for Bolsonaro, according to the Superior Electoral Tribunal.

The second-round vote, extending what has been a tense and violent campaign by an additional four weeks, will take place on October 30.

On Sunday, there were long queues at polling stations that closed at 5pm local time (20:00 GMT).

About 156 million people were eligible to vote.

Da Silva, popularly known as Lula, went into election day the frontrunner, with recent opinion polls giving him a commanding lead and even a first-round victory. The strength of Bolsonaro’s support and the much tighter result dashed expectations of a quick resolution to the deep polarisation in the world’s fourth-largest democracy.

“He clearly outperformed, and that’s a big surprise, ” Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas told Al Jazeera. “The polls proved to be incorrect in Brazil.”

Brazil’s former president and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva votes at a polling station.
Presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva votes at a polling station in Sao Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil [Mariana Greif/Reuters]
Bolsonaro had questioned polls that showed him losing to Lula in the first round, saying they did not capture the enthusiasm he saw on the campaign trail. The 67-year-old former army captain hailed the result as a win.

“We beat the lie today,” he told reporters, referring to the pre-vote polls.

“Now the campaign is ours… I’m completely confident. We have a lot of positive accomplishments to show.”

In races for the lower house, Senate and governorships, Brazil’s far-right also turned in strong performances.

In the key race for governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and industrial capital, Bolsonaro’s former infrastructure minister Tarcisio de Freitas shattered forecasts to take 42.6 percent of the vote to 35.5 percent for Lula ally Fernando Haddad, whom he will face in a runoff.

“The extreme right is very strong across Brazil,” said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at the Insper business school in Sao Paulo. “Lula’s second-round victory is now less likely. Bolsonaro will arrive with a lot of strength for re-election.”