RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Brazil entered the final stages of a deeply polarized presidential campaign on Monday after an inconclusive first round of voting put far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in an unexpectedly strong position.
Bolsonaro, 67, won 43% of the vote in Sunday’s first round, compared to 48% for left-wing leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – a difference of five points.
Polls predicted a much larger gap of 14 points, reminiscent of Brexit surprises and Donald Trump’s US election victory in 2016.
Former President Lula, 76, looked within reach of winning the election in the first round with more than 50% of the vote – but the race is now heading for a run-off on October 30.
Not only did Bolsonaro exceed expectations, but many of his allies did better than predicted polls in congressional and gubernatorial elections.
Despite finishing second, Bolsonaro looked triumphant.
“Our opponents prepared for a 100 meter sprint. We are ready for a marathon,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.
“We are convinced that we will win, for God, country, family, life and freedom!”
Bolsonaro has proven that despite the controversies of his four-year term, fueled by a shocking pandemic death toll attributed in part to his skeptical COVID-19 policies, the growing destruction of the Amazon rainforest and a sharp rise in the number of Brazilians, has been marked, a great force remains to live in hunger.
The Sao Paulo Stock Exchange reacted to the first-round results in Latin America’s largest economy by jumping 5.5% in afternoon trading on Monday.
Analysts said the market welcomed the strong performance of the fiscal conservatives.
“Whoever wins the second round must govern with a more right-wing, liberal, liberal Congress,” said economist Igor Macedo de Lucena.
‘THE FIGHT CONTINUES’
Both men accepted the latest push to win the votes of some nine million Brazilians who voted for minority candidates – none of whom managed to break the five percent backing – and 31 million others who have not chosen at all.
Lula, who wasted no time with his campaign team on Monday, said: “We need to talk to everyone who didn’t vote for us in the first round.”
He added that he was “ready to speak to the whole world” and said he was determined to form a “democratic bloc” to defeat Bolsonaro.
“The deepest change in the country has already begun! It’s not the people who need to be scared,” Lulu tweeted.
Analysts say Bolsonaro’s performance is a sign of a stressful and contentious four weeks.
Incumbent has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on Brazil’s electronic voting system and questioned the validity of opinion polls that placed him far behind.
Now he can say Sunday’s results back up his claims.