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'Democracy is back': Lula wins Brazil's bitter presidential vote

Incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has not yet conceded the election, after months of alleging that the country’s voting system is corrupt.

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT Inacio Lula da Silva has called for “peace and unity” after narrowly winning a divisive runoff election.

‘Lula’, as he is known, capped a remarkable political comeback by defeating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro – who has yet to accept defeat.

The victory marks a stunning turnaround for the charismatic but tarnished leftist icon, who left office in 2010 as the most popular president in Brazilian history, fell into disgrace when he was imprisoned for 18 months on controversial, since-quashed corruption charges, and now returns for an unprecedented third term at age 77.

All eyes will now be on how Bolsonaro and his supporters react to the result, after months of alleging – without evidence – that Brazil’s electronic voting system is plagued by fraud and that the courts, media and other institutions had conspired against his far-right movement.

“This country needs peace and unity,” Lula said to loud cheers in a victory speech in Sao Paulo.

brazil-elections Lula supporters gather on Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo after the election results were announced Matias Delacroix / PA Matias Delacroix / PA / PA

“The challenge is immense,” he said of the job ahead of him, citing a hunger crisis, the economy, bitter political division, and deforestation in the Amazon.

He later addressed a tightly packed crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters who flooded the city centre clad in Workers’ Party red, vowing: “Democracy is back.”

‘He hasn’t called yet’
Bolsonaro, 67, was silent in the hours after the result was declared.

Lula told the crowd:

Anywhere in the world, the losing president would already have called to admit defeat. He hasn’t called yet, I don’t know if he will call and concede.

Some Bolsonaro supporters, gathered in the capital Brasilia, refused to accept the results.

In the closest race since Brazil returned to democracy after its 1964-1985 dictatorship, electoral officials declared the election for Lula, who had 50.9 percent of the vote to 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro with more than 99.9 percent of polling stations reporting.

Bolsonaro, the vitriolic hardline conservative dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” meanwhile becomes the first incumbent president not to win re-election in the post-dictatorship era.

With no word from Bolsonaro, some of his key allies appeared in public to accept the results, including the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira, who said it was time to “extend a hand to our adversaries, debate, build bridges.”

‘Restore peace’
Congratulations for Lula poured in from EU leaders, US President Joe Biden, Canada’s Justin Trudeau as well as leaders from across Latin America.

Irish president Michael D Higgins said in a statement to Lula: “May I offer you my warmest congratulations, following your election as President of Brazil. I send these good wishes as President of Ireland and on behalf of the people of Ireland, following your election victory.

“The links that have developed in recent years between our countries have been characterised by the energy and creativity of those Brazilians who have made their homes in Ireland while we in turn take pride in the Irish contribution to Brazil, mindful of the historic links rooted in our history, as well as in our educational and cultural lives.”

Lula supporters around the country erupted into celebration yesterday evening.

brazil-elections Lula supporters celebrate in Rio de Janeiro Bruna Prado Bruna Prado

In Brasilia, the tearful crowd of Bolsonaro supporters – outfitted in green and yellow, the colours of Brazil’s flag which the ex-army captain has adopted as his own – fell to their knees to pray.

Bolsonaro surged to victory four years ago on a wave of outrage with politics as usual, but came under fire for his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – which left more than 680,000 dead in Brazil – as well as a weak economy, polarising style and attacks on democratic institutions.

Regardless of how the incumbent reacts, Lula will face huge challenges from the day he is inaugurated on 1 January.

Bolsonaro’s far-right allies scored big victories in legislative and governors’ races in the first-round election on 2 October, and will be the largest force in Congress.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro’s former infrastructure minister Tarcisio de Freitas clinched the governorship of Sao Paulo, the most populous and wealthiest state in the country.

‘Zero deforestation’
In his victory speech, Lula touched on gender and racial equality and the urgent need to deal with a hunger crisis affecting 33.1 million Brazilians.

“Today we tell the world that Brazil is back,” he said, adding that the country is “ready to reclaim its place in the fight against the climate crisis, especially the Amazon.”

He vowed to “fight for zero deforestation.”

Lula inherits a deeply divided country, with a hugely difficult global economic situation that looks nothing like the commodities “super-cycle” that allowed him to lead Latin America’s biggest economy through a watershed boom in the 2000s.
None of that mattered for the time being to elated Lula supporters.

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