Bolsonaro Exceeds Expectations in Brazil Elections

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The first round of Brazil’s bitterly contested presidential elections on Sunday saw former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva finish in first place, although incumbent Jair Bolsonaro made a stronger-than-expected showing as the pair head to a runoff vote on Oct. 30.

Final tallies had Lula, a left-wing former trade union boss who served as president from 2003 until 2010, receiving 48.4% of the vote in the first round. Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, finished with 43.2%, far closer than many pre-election day polls had indicated.

After the results became clear, Lula insisted that his re-election remained inevitable despite falling short of the 50% majority that would have precluded the need for a runoff vote.

“I want to win every election in the first round, but it's not always possible," Lula tweeted. "But the belief that nothing happens by chance motivates me. Every poll put us in first place, and I always thought we were going to win. And we go. This is just an delay."

Bolsonaro's Partido Liberal faction also did much better than polling had predicted in the elections for Brazil’s congress. Partido Liberal is now projected to be the largest party in the body, which could be problematic should Lula win the second round.

Many of the parties in the congress now veer from center-right to far right, which could make it difficult for Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party) to cobble together a working majority. A number of those elected are former officials in Bolsonaro’s government.

Another aspect of the coming runoff election is that more governors that are allied with Bolsonaro were elected or reelected than supporters of Lula. That includes Claudio Castro, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the heart of Brail’s oil industry, who won a full term as governor after taking over in an interim capacity from suspended governor Wilson Witzel in April 2021.

The fate of Brazilian state oil company Petrobras has been a prominent feature in campaign rhetoric. A frequent target of Bolsonaro due to high fuel prices, Petrobras has churned through four CEOs during his time in office, and the president has made no secret of his desire to privatize the company.

Lula, who was jailed in connection to the Operation Car Wash scandal before being released in 2019 with his convictions nullified, has said that he would keep the company in the state's control and work to position it for a transition to renewable and green energies.

He has also suggested that Petrobras needs to diversify from an over-reliance on offshore pre-salt fields and "go back to being an integrated energy company," with more emphasis on biofuel production.

Worrying many observers, Bolsonaro has made frequent allusions to refusing to accept the result of the election if he loses, saying at an August rally in Sao Paulo that "power only emanates from the people when they choose correctly.”

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