Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and his left-wing challenger Lula da Silva will face a head-to-head run-off after the incumbent conservative president rallied in the country’s election on Saturday to force a much closer contest than pollsters thought possible.
The left camp smiled arrogantly at what was perhaps the greatest coup by Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the election campaign when two days before the polls opened, soccer star Neymar called on social media for his compatriots to vote for the right-wing populist.
This call to arms had two notable effects. Suddenly, Bolsonaro voters began publicly acknowledging their intention to vote, which was mostly ostracized by the media. In addition, the Afro-Brazilian population found out that the Bolsonaro camp is by no means alone when it comes to racist comments. It is alarming what black footballers sometimes have to read from white journalists and the left-wing electorate on the networks if they don’t speak out for the Workers’ Party (PT), and Lula’s management team is almost entirely white and male.
Since Sunday evening, everything seems to be open again in Brazil. The result is a minor disgrace for many survey institutes and a large part of the international reporting on the election campaign since the actual mood on the Brazilian population was completely misjudged.
Bolsonaro, with almost 43.3 percent, received significantly more votes than forecast. The favorite left-wing challenger Lula da Silva got 48.3 percent. The latter must now fight for a victory that was believed to be a sure thing. Both camps now have time until the run-off election on Oct. 30 to mobilize their electorate, win over new voters, or lose them by way of serious mistakes.
“It’s just an extension,” Lula tried to reassure his followers, promising that “the fight will continue until the final victory.”
There is also a lot at stake for Germany and Europe. Berlin and Brussels had put everything on the Lula card by stopping the ratification of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, which was ready to be signed, to punish Bolsonaro for his Amazon deforestation policy. The Europeans now urgently need resource-rich South America because of the supply crisis resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The decisive factor will now be who the electorate of the losing candidates — Simone Tebet (4 percent), Ciro Gomes (3 percent), and Sonja Thronicke and Felipe Avila (1 percent combined) — will choose. With the votes of Tebet, Thronicke, and Avila, Bolsonaro could be ahead.
The moderate left-wing politician Gomes was “extremely worried about the future of Brazil” at the prospect of two populist camps clashing and asked for “a few hours to think about” his position. A few days ago, it was “Never Lula Again.”
Tebet has announced his intention to comment on the results within 48 hours. Bolsonaro told Tebet and Gomes, who could bring him the missing 7 percent, “the doors are open to talk to each other.”
Why Bolsonaro is significantly more popular than conveyed in most international media or the polls could be discussed in detail. The fact is that an incomplete picture of Brazil is sometimes conveyed in both the national and international media. The fall in the country’s homicide rate to its lowest level since 2007 in 2021 is usually missing from the extensive reporting on police violence, while the number of over 30 million people suffering from hunger in Brazil, as recently reported by the media and institutes close to Lula, cannot be seriously verified. Bolsonaro’s economics minister, Paulo Guedes, publicly denounced this figure as fake news.
There is evidence of current economic growth of 2.6 percent, while important domestic tourism is back to pre-pandemic levels, and new shops are opening almost every day in major cities. In the most populous state of São Paulo, the heart of the Brazilian economy, Bolsonaro is seven points ahead of Lula. Only a year ago, tens of thousands of Lula supporters, or organizations close to them, called for immediate action to be taken against high fuel and food prices. When Bolsonaro drastically reduced taxes, this was allegedly seen as an election campaign gift, as was the crisis aid of around €120 a month for needy families.
And then there are the ever-growing arch-conservative evangelical churches, which are loyal to the anti-abortion and fundamentally Christian Bolsonaro. The evangelical churches provide the voters and Bolsonaro with an appropriate conservative ideology through the buzzwords fatherland, family, God, and freedom.
Realistically, Lula da Silva will still win the second round. He only has to win a small part of the votes in addition to his base result of over 48 percent.
But the actual messages of the evening were different: “Bolsonarism” is much more firmly anchored in Brazilian society than the pollsters think. Numerous prominent allies won important offices and seats in parliament.
“Maybe Lula will win, but Bolsonarism has already won,” the daily Folha commented.