Bolsonaro and Lula appear to be headed for the runoff in Brazil’s polarized election campaign

It seems increasingly likely that neither of the two frontrunners will receive more than 50% of the valid votes in Brazil’s highly polarized election campaign, meaning a second round of voting is scheduled for October 30.

With 91.6% of the vote counted Sunday night, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party held a slight lead in the country’s presidential election with 47.3% support.

Incumbent Jair Bolsonaro was second with 44.2% support.

The highly polarized election will decide whether the country restores a leftist to the top of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right leader in office for another four years.

Mr Bolsonaro’s government has been marked by inflammatory speeches, his scrutiny of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values ​​and portraying himself as the nation’s protector from left-wing politics, which he says violate personal liberties and create economic turmoil.

Mr. Da Silva is credited with building a massive welfare program during his tenure from 2003 to 2010 that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.

He is also known for his government’s involvement in major corruption scandals and his own convictions, which were later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Polling stations across the country closed at 5 p.m. on Sunday, and because voting is conducted electronically, the first results are coming in quickly. The final results are usually available a few hours later.

More than 150 million Brazilians were eligible to vote, although abstentions can reach as high as 20%.

“We will most likely have a second round,” said Nara Pavao, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco. “The probability of ending the election now (in the first ballot) is too low.”

Recent opinion polls had given Mr da Silva a clear lead – the latest Datafolha poll released on Saturday showed a 50% to 36% advantage for Mr da Silva among those looking to vote. 12,800 people were interviewed, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

The election was far closer than expected, both in the presidential election and in the gubernatorial and congressional seats.

“The far right has shown great resilience in the presidential and state elections,” said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo.

“It’s too early to go too deep but this election shows that Mr Bolsonaro’s win in 2018 was no hiccup,” he added.

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