Brazil: Lula wins Brazilian election, Bolsonaro has not conceded

The leftist former president overtook far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the dying moments of the bitterly-fought elections.

 Supporters of Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, react as they wait for the results of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 30, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES)
Supporters of Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, react as they wait for the results of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 30, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES)

Brazilian leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated President Jair Bolsonaro in a runoff election, but the far right incumbent did not concede defeat on Sunday night, raising concerns that he might contest the result.

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) declared Lula the next president, with 50.9% of votes against 49.1% for Bolsonaro. The 77-year-old Lula's inauguration is scheduled for January 1.

It was a stunning comeback for the leftist former president and a punishing blow to Bolsonaro, the first Brazilian incumbent to lose a presidential election.

Two visions for Brazil's future

"So far, Bolsonaro has not called me to recognize my victory, and I don't know if he will call or if he will recognize my victory," Lula told tens of thousands of jubilant supporters celebrating his win on Sao Paulo's Paulista Ave.

A source in the Bolsonaro campaign told Reuters the president would not make public remarks until Monday. The Bolsonaro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

 Supporters of Brazil's former president and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva react as they gather on the day of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Brasilia, Brazil October 30, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES) Supporters of Brazil's former president and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva react as they gather on the day of the Brazilian presidential election run-off, in Brasilia, Brazil October 30, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES)

Lula promises more social and environmental responsibility, recalling the rising prosperity of his 2003-2010 presidency, before corruption scandals tarnished his Workers Party.

Bolsonaro last year openly discussed refusing to accept the results of the vote, making baseless claims that Brazil's electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud.

One close Bolsonaro ally, lawmaker Carla Zambelli, in an apparent nod to the results, wrote on Twitter, "I PROMISE you, I will be the greatest opposition that Lula has ever imagined."

That has added to tensions in Brazil's most polarizing election since its return to democracy in 1985 after a military dictatorship that Lula, a former union leader, rallied against and Bolsonaro, a former army captain, invokes with nostalgia.

Lula's win consolidates a new "pink tide" in Latin America, after landmark leftist victories in Colombia and Chile's elections, echoing a regional political shift two decades ago that introduced Lula to the world stage.

He has vowed a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped lift millions out of poverty during two terms as president from 2003 to 2010. He also promises to combat destruction of the Amazon rainforest, now at a 15-year high, and make Brazil a leader in global climate talks.

Alleged voter suppression 

Lula allies on Sunday said police had stopped buses carrying voters on highways even though the electoral authority had prohibited them from doing so. Brazilian media reported that such operations were concentrated in the northeast, where Lula has the strongest support. 

"What happened today is criminal. There is no justification for the (police) to mount roadblocks on Election Day," Workers Party President Gleisi Hoffman told journalists. 

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. The Federal Highway Police said they had complied with court orders.

With Bolsonaro stickers on her chest, Rio de Janeiro resident Ana Maria Vieira said she was certain to vote for the president, and would never countenance picking Lula.

"I saw what Lula and his criminal gang did to this country," she said, as she arrived to vote in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood, adding that she thought Bolsonaro's handling of the economy had been "fantastic."

A Lula victory would mark a stunning comeback for the leftist leader, who was jailed in 2018 for 19 months on bribery convictions that the Supreme Court overturned last year, clearing the way for him to seek a third presidential term.

"These were four years of hatred, of negation of science," Ana Valeria Doria, 60, a doctor in Rio de Janeiro who celebrated with a drink. "It won't be easy for Lula to manage the division in this country. But for now it's pure happiness."A former union leader born into poverty, Lula organized strikes against Brazil's military government in the 1970s. His two-term presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom and he left office with record popularity.

However, his Workers Party was later tarred by a deep recession and a record-breaking corruption scandal that jailed him for 19 months on bribery convictions, which were overturned by the Supreme Court last year.

In Sao Paulo, 31-year-old lawyer Gerardo Maiar said he was horrified by what Bolsonaro had done as president.

"The last four years were an embarrassment, both nationally and internationally," he said after voting. "I think it's ridiculous for Brazil to be in this shameful position."