Challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has won Brazil’s election after defeating incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in a razor-close vote on Sunday.
According to the country’s election authority, Lula secured 50.8 percent of the vote compared to 49.2 percent for Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro had been leading throughout the first half of the vote count and, as soon as Lula overtook him, cars in the streets of downtown Sao Paulo began honking their horns.
People in the streets of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema neighbourhood could be heard shouting, “It turned!”
“He’s the best for the poor, especially in the countryside,” said retired government worker Luiz Carlos Gomes, 65, who hails from Maranhao state in the poor northeast region. “We were always starving before him.”
It was Brazil’s most polarising election since its return to democracy in 1985 after a military dictatorship that Lula, a former union leader, rallied against and Bolsonaro, a former army captain, invokes with nostalgia.
It remained to be seen if Bolsonaro would concede defeat. Without proof, he has described the voting system as fraud-prone, raising concern he may not concede, following the example of his ideological ally, former US President Donald Trump.
It is tradition in Brazil for the losing candidate to speak first and accept the election loss, before the new president addresses the nation.
‘Question the legitimacy’
Most opinion polls before the election gave a lead to Lula, though political analysts agreed the race grew increasingly tight in recent weeks.
Guilherme Casaroes, from the Brazilian Center for International Relations, said the atmosphere in Sao Paulo felt like it did when Lula was first elected in 2002.
“It was more an election of hope back then. Now, I have the feeling that many people are celebrating the end of a very dark period. I think everyone knows it’s an uphill battle, but I think people are very excited to see what Lula will do,” Casaroes told Al Jazeera.
The election served as a referendum on two starkly different – and vehemently opposed – visions for Brazil’s future.
Bolsonaro vowed to consolidate a sharp rightward turn in Brazilian politics after a presidency that witnessed one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the pandemic and widespread deforestation in the Amazon basin.
Lula promised more social and environmental responsibility, recalling the rising prosperity of his 2003-2010 presidency before corruption scandals tarnished his Workers Party.
Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations, said Lula will need to work hard on reconciliation with such a stark divide throughout the country.
“Basically 50 percent of Brazilians are very afraid his return to power. This is a very polarised country, it’s a frustrated country, it’s a more poorer country. A lot of people may question the legitimacy of this election. I think it’s a volatile moment now, and Lula will have to choose his words very carefully,” Stuenkel told Al Jazeera.
Roadblocks on election day
Lula allies on Sunday said police had stopped buses carrying voters on highways even though the electoral authority had prohibited them from doing so. Brazilian media reported such operations were concentrated in the northeast, where Lula has the strongest support.
“What happened today is criminal. There is no justification for the [police] to mount roadblocks on election day,” Workers Party President Gleisi Hoffman told journalists.
However, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), which runs Brazil’s elections, said no one had been prevented from voting and declined to extend voting hours. The Federal Highway Police said they had complied with court orders.
Bolsonaro’s four years in office were marked by proclaimed conservatism and defence of traditional Christian values. He claimed his rival’s return to power would usher in communism, legalised drugs, abortion and the persecution of churches — things that did not happen during Lula’s earlier eight years in office.
This story originally Appeared on Aljazeera