Lula Defeats Incumbent Bolsonaro in Brazilian Runoff Election
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal, which certified the election, announced Sunday night that Lula had secured 50.9 percent of the votes while Bolsonaro had received 49.1 percent.
Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, the leader of the left-wing Workers’ Party and Brazil’s former president from 2003 to 2010, won re-election to the country’s presidency on Sunday with a narrow victory over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s victory marked a stunning turnaround for the left-wing politician after a decade of controversy and a brief stint in prison on corruption charges.
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal, which certified the election, announced Sunday night that Lula had secured 50.9 percent of the votes while Bolsonaro had received 49.1 percent. The result is a significant shift from Brazil’s last presidential election in 2018 when the right-wing Bolsonaro had defeated Lula’s protege Fernando Haddad by a ten-point margin. Sunday’s vote also marked the first election in Brazil’s history in which the incumbent president lost to a challenger.
U.S. president Joe Biden quickly congratulated Lula, praising Brazil’s “free, fair, and credible” elections in a brief statement and claiming that he looked forward to working with him. Arthur Lira, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of parliament and a member of the center-right Progressive Party, also congratulated the president-elect, claiming that his victory had shown the “will of the majority.”
Bolsonaro had not yet conceded the election as of Monday morning. In the weeks leading up to the vote he attacked the credibility of Brazil’s electoral system, including its use of electronic voting machines that he claimed could be manipulated by poll workers or hackers. Brazilian and outside experts disputed Bolsonaro’s assertions, comparing them to former U.S. president Donald Trump’s similarly false claims about voter fraud during his loss to Biden in 2020.
Once in office, Lula has committed to fixing Brazil’s struggling economy, lowering its double-digit inflation rate, and working to reduce the country’s substantial wealth inequality. He has also vowed to combat deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, preserve the environment, and protect the rights of indigenous native tribes from commercial expansion.
Although he pledged to unify the country, exit polling revealed that Lula primarily drew support from the country’s poor who benefited substantially from social services during his first period in office. During his presidency, Lula oversaw a boom in economic activity and high agricultural and commodity prices, allowing him to institute sweeping anti-poverty programs. The most notable initiative, the Bolsa Familia program, provided the poorest Brazilians with a monthly cash transfer and was credited with lifting millions out of dire poverty.
By contrast, polls have suggested that most middle- and upper-class Brazilians favored Bolsonaro’s pro-business rhetoric, and Lula’s narrow victory hints at his future challenges once in power. Conservative and right-wing parties are dominant in Brazil’s three most populous states—Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro—and remain strong across the country. The former president was also dogged by his conviction on money laundering charges in 2017, although he was released from prison in 2019 and the verdict was nullified in 2021.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.