Lula prepares to return to power after defeating Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO (HPD) — Brazilians handed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a narrow victory in a closely contested presidential election, giving the leftist former president another chance to govern and rejecting the far-right policies of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula received 50.9% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 49.1%, according to the Brazilian electoral council. But by the next morning—and even after multiple congratulatory messages from world leaders had come in—Bolsonaro had neither admitted defeat to him nor reacted in any way. At the same time, several truck drivers blocked roads across the country as an expression of protest.

Bolsonaro’s campaign had been denouncing for some time – without any basis – the possibility of vote manipulation even before the elections, raising fears that if he lost he would refuse to accept the results and try to reverse them.

For Lula, it is a stunning reversal of fortunes. In the 2018 elections he was unable to participate as he was imprisoned for corruption. Those elections were won by Bolsonaro, who has used the presidency to promote conservative social values ​​while delivering incendiary speeches and testing the limits of democratic institutions.

“Today the only winner is the Brazilian people,” Lula said in a speech Sunday night at a Sao Paulo hotel. “It is the victory of a democratic movement that was formed above political parties, personal interests and ideologies so that democracy can be victorious.”

Lula has promised to govern beyond his party. He says he wants to attract centrists and even right-wing sympathizers, and restore the prosperity that reigned during his previous presidency from 2003-2010. However, he faces headwinds in a highly polarized society.

The four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency were characterized by his proclaimed conservatism and defense of traditional Christian values. He claimed that if his rival returned to power, she would bring communism, legalize abortion and drugs, and persecute the churches, measures that Lula never took in his first eight years in office.

It was the closest election in Brazil since the country returned to democracy in 1985, and the first time a president has not been re-elected. There were just over 2 million votes between the two candidates; the closest previous election was in 2014, when some 3.5 million votes separated the main rivals.

Some Bolsonaro supporters gathered outside his home in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night and shouted about electoral fraud. Also during the night, truck drivers who support Bolsonaro blocked roads throughout the country, including a section of the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo highway, according to the local press. Videos on social media showed traffic at a standstill. Similar reports surfaced in other states.

Lula’s victory joins other recent ones by leftist leaders in Latin America, such as in Chile, Colombia and Argentina.

After being sworn in on January 1, Lula will inherit a highly divided society, observed Thomas Traumann, an independent political analyst who has compared Lula’s election to that of Joe Biden in the United States in 2020.

“The great challenge that Lula will have will be to pacify the country,” said Traumann. “People are not only divided on political issues, but they have different values, different identities, different opinions. What’s more, they don’t even care what values, identities and opinions the other side has.”

Among the world leaders who congratulated Lula is Biden, who issued a statement highlighting the “free, fair and credible elections” that Brazil had. The European Union also praised the electoral authority for its efficiency and transparency.


Carla Bridi contributed from Brasilia.

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