Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeated incumbent Jaír Bolsonaro in Sunday’s second round in Brazil. Lula’s win brings the leftist leader back to power, as the country’s electorate rejected four years of Bolsonaro’s right-wing rule — a result that many of Brazil’s leaders, including those on the right, have acknowledgedexcept Bolsonaro himself.
Bolsonaro has yet to admit the election, hours after Lula won 50.9 percent of the vote against Bolsonaro’s 49.1 percent. But in that void, the Brazilian politicians – including some of Bolsonaro’s closest allies – confirmed Lula’s election victory and pledged to work with the new government. World leaders have also congratulated Lula on his victory.
Full support for the legitimacy of Lula’s victory has softened the potential threat of Bolsonaro’s silence — and the threat of the possibility that the incumbent official won’t accept the election results.
Bolsonaro has long cast doubts on the integrity of elections in Brazil and raised the specter of voter fraud during his presidency. including in the 2018 elections which he actually won.
In the run-up to the 2022 elections, he bolstered and intensified those claims, especially as Lula led the polls and Bolsonaro faced political criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy. In particular, Bolsonaro lied about the security of the country’s electronic voting system (which has been in use since 2002 to reduce fraud and corruption and to manage the logistics of a complex voting system). “I will hand over the presidential sash to whoever wins the election cleanly,” said far right Bolsonaro said in July 2021. “Not with Fraud.”
But Bolsonaro looks increasingly isolated. Although some of his supporters have protested, including truck drivers blocking roadshas already strongly signaled to the political establishment that it is preparing for Lula’s January 1 inauguration.
Exactly how smooth a transition will be remains to be seen. Bolsonaro has previously said he saw three outcomes for the election: death, prison or victory. That makes it hard to imagine him graciously giving in and affirming the health of Brazilian democracy when a right-wing leader hands over power to a left-wing political opponent.
“I don’t think he’s interested in that kind of symbolism. I don’t think he wants to work with Lula during the transition period,” said Andre Pagliarini, assistant professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College and fellow at the Washington, Brazil office. That said, one thing I think is fatal to any attempt by Bolsonaro to screw things up is that pretty much everyone has acknowledged his defeat.
Bolsonaro loses, but Bolsonarismo is here to stay
None of this rules out the possibility of Bolsonaro making one last-ditch attempt to remain in power in the two months between now and the day of the inauguration. But right now, few seem willing to enable him.
That is a reassuring sign for Brazil’s democratic institutions, which have so far held up the January 6 style uprising which some feared would happen in the wake of a possible defeat of Bolsonaro.
But in retrospect, it seems like it would always be a little harder to get it done. First, Brazil is quickly getting the election results – the world’s fourth largest democracy, with a population of more than 210 million, including some who vote from remote parts of the Amazon, his results add up quickly (certainly faster than the world’s second largest democracy). The country – and the world – knew that Lula had won the election on the day of. That, experts have noted, has eliminated Bolsonaro much space to sow real doubts about the outcome. (Over there Were there reports of possible voter intimidation? on the day of the election against Lula voters after police reportedly blocked roads in the northeast, the stronghold of Lula.)
And again, the political establishment credited Lula with the victory, even if some of his opponents made it clear that they would oppose him and his agenda if they were in office. The army and the police, always a potential joker, also don’t seem to get excited about disrupting the peaceful transfer of power. According to the New York Times, Bolsonaro has been meeting with ministers throughout the day, who have offered him a speech to deliver Monday, although it is still unclear if and when he will speak – or what he will say.
“At an institutional level, everyone is acting very responsibly, so Bolsonaro has no grip there,” said Paulo Barrozo, an associate professor of law at Boston College.
Lula’s victory and that institutional stronghold, if it holds up, are signs that Brazilian democracy has withstood the very real threat posed by Bolsonaro. There are sighs of relief and celebration from many of Lula’s supporters and Bolsonaro’s opponents.
But that victory is no panacea for the country’s sharp divisions. Bolsonaro lost the election, but many of his political allies wonand Lula will rule over a divided government. Lula won with a coalition that including its traditional base of support, but his coalition stretched from the far left to the center right, including many who voted against Bolsonaro rather than Lula. That could redefine the legacy of Lula, a leftist hero who went back to the presidency from prison and who, experts said, can now rule more from the center, positioning himself as a transitional leader.
“From January 1, 2023, I will rule for 215 million Brazilians and not just those who voted for me,” Lula said in his victory speech. “There are not two Brazilians. We are a single country, a single people and a great nation.”
But the narrow election result – the tightest since Brazil’s transition to democracy in 1984-1985 – makes it clear that there are likely to be two Brazils. Bolsonaro may have lost, but Bolsonarismo and the right-wing movement he created has become a more deeply rooted political phenomenon, Pagliarini said.
In any case, the election results show the strength of Brazil’s right wing – which still enjoyed electoral success in 2022, perhaps seeing these elections as a future to build on, a future that transcends Bolsonaro himself. “If and when Bolsonaro leaves the podium, his presence will be felt for years to come, not just in elected office,” Pagliarini said.