Supporters of Brazil’s presidential candidate for the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) and former president (2003-2010), Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, show the elusive ‘L’ symbol to Lula’s presidential campaign ahead of a rally in Salvador , in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on September 30, 2022.
Arisson Marinho | AFP | Getty Images
Brazilians voted on Sunday in the first round of their country’s most polarized election in decades, with leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva set to beat right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
Most polls have shown Lula to have had a solid lead for months, but Bolsonaro has signaled he may refuse to accept defeat, stoking fears of an institutional crisis or post-election violence. A message projected on the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro before the vote read: “Peace in the elections”.
Most opinion polls favor Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, by 10 to 15 percentage points. If he wins more than 50% of the valid vote, which several pollsters are showing within reach, it would ensure him an outright victory, giving up a vote in the second round.
Adorned with Lula stickers, Adriana Schneider voted in a primary school in Rio de Janeiro. The 48-year-old university professor said Bolsonaro’s administration had been “catastrophic” for investment in culture, arts, science and education.
“We live under a barbaric government,” she said.
Lula was imprisoned during the last election, serving a corruption conviction which was later overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing him to face fierce rival Bolsonaro in this year’s vote.
Voting in São Bernardo do Campo, Lula acknowledged the dramatic turnaround in his fortunes after a conviction he said was politically motivated.
“It’s an important day for me,” he said. “Four years ago I couldn’t vote because I was the victim of a lie… I want to try to help my country get back to normal.”
Bolsonaro cast his ballot in Rio and said he expected to win Sunday’s first-round election, despite his poor showing in the polls. The former army captain doesn’t trust pollsters, saying their results don’t match the support he’s seeing at his campaign events.
“If we have a clean election, we will win today with at least 60% of the vote,” Bolsonaro said in a video posted to his social media before casting his vote. “All the evidence we have is in our favor. The other side couldn’t take to the streets, didn’t campaign, has no acceptance, no credibility.”
A winner could be announced hours after polls close at 5 p.m. Brasilia time (2000 GMT). If no candidate wins more than half the vote, excluding blank and spoiled ballots, the top two head to a run-off on October 30, extending the tense campaign season.
Bolsonaro threatened to challenge the vote result, after making baseless allegations of fraud, accusing election authorities of conspiring against him and suggesting the military conduct a parallel count, which it refused to do.
The Bolsonaro coalition leads the legislative elections
A decisive victory for Lula on Sunday could reduce the chances of a tumultuous transition. Bolsonaro’s critics say another month of his attacks on the democratic process could spark social unrest like the 2021 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro says he will respect the election result if the vote is “clean and transparent”, without setting criteria.
Brazilians are also voting on Sunday for the 513 members of the lower house of Congress, a third of the 81 members of the Senate and governors and state legislatures.
Although Lula leads the presidential race, the conservative coalition supporting Bolsonaro is expected to hold a majority in both houses of Congress. It could present challenges for the left to govern a country with growing hunger, high unemployment and an uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both Lula and Bolsonaro have pledged more generous social spending next year, adding pressure on the federal budget and leading them both to seek alternatives to current spending rules.
The newly established autonomy of Brazil’s central bank and Lula’s choice of a former centrist rival as his running mate reassured some investors that he would not trigger a disruptive break in economic policy.
Lula has pledged to drastically deviate from Bolsonaro’s environmental policies after deforestation in the Amazon rainforest hit a 15-year high. Lula pledged to fight against logging, strengthen the protection of the biome and local tribes, and make Brazil a protagonist in climate diplomacy.
As in previous elections, the Brazilian military was mobilized to reinforce security at some 477,000 polling stations, using electronic voting machines that allow rapid tabulation of results by the National Electoral Authority (TSE).
Following Bolsonaro’s criticism of Brazil’s voting systems, the TSE invited a record number of foreign election observers, including for the first time US observer missions to The Carter Center and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems ( IFES).