Brazil wakes up to four more weeks of uncertainty

After an inconclusive first round of presidential elections, Brazilians woke up on Monday to another month of uncertainty in a highly polarized political environment and renewed fears of unrest.

Ex-president and leading candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (76), who wanted to make a spectacular comeback, missed the 50 percent of the vote plus one needed to hold a runoff election on October 30 against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro (67). to avoid.

Lula received 48.4 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round, followed by Bolsonaro with a much narrower than expected 43.2 percent, which seemed to signal a high level of enthusiasm for his conservative “God, Country and Family” policies.

Lula went into the first ballot on Sunday with 50 percent of voter intentions polled, Bolsonaro with 36 percent.

The divisive president’s surprise performance likely comes at a difficult time, analysts said.

“I think it’s going to be a very stressful campaign,” Leonardo Paz, Brazil adviser to International Crisis Group, told AFP.

“Bolsonaro and Lula will come… for each other, and I think Bolsonaro will double down to… say the system was against him.”

Bolsonaro has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on Brazil’s electronic voting system and has questioned the validity of opinion polls that have consistently placed him a distant second.

Now that real-life results seem to back up his claims, “maybe more people… believe what Bolsonaro is saying,” Paz said.

– ‘Encouraged’ –

The incumbent president has repeatedly indicated he would not accept a Lula victory, raising fears of a Brazilian version of last year’s US Capitol riots after former President Donald Trump refused to accept his election defeat.

Bolsonaro “will be very encouraged” by Sunday’s election performance, said Michael Shifter of think tank Inter-American Dialogue.

“That will give him some momentum because he exceeded expectations… He will build on the pundits getting it wrong: ‘I have the momentum and I will defy expectations again in the second round’.”

Late on Sunday, Bolsonaro announced to journalists: “We have defeated the lies of the opinion polls.”

Passions will run high on both sides over the next four weeks.

Lula’s defeat in the first round gives Bolsonaro “an extra month to cause riots in the streets,” political scientist Guilherme Casaroes of the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s (FGV) Sao Paulo School of Business Administration told AFP.

“Any kind of doubt he casts on the voting system will work in his favor … and demobilize voters not to vote for Lula.”

That would mean hammering out Lula’s mistakes, including his controversial corruption conviction – which has since been overturned in court, but not necessarily in the court of public opinion – and the 18 months he spent in prison.

“Certainly he (Bolsonaro) is very capable of kick-starting his base and they could interpret that (as the all-clear) to go after Lula supporters… You can’t rule it out,” Shifter said.

“There’s just a lot of resentment and a lot of hate and a lot of distrust and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of that leads to unrest,” he added.

However, any violence was likely to be isolated and unorganized, as has been the case so far, analysts said.

– Heading for a surprise? –

Sunday’s election result also indicated that Bolsonaro cannot be written off.

“Lula’s chances of being elected appear to be significantly reduced,” said Casaroes.

A “Bolsonarist” wave, spurred by the results of the first round, “will boost the president’s campaign and help demobilize unconvinced Lula voters.”

It also means that Lula “has to be much more aggressive against centrists and even conservatives over the next four weeks,” said FGV’s Oliver Stuenkel, potentially hurting his standing with more radical left-wing supporters.

Conversely, the disappointing result for Lula supporters could also serve to cheer them on for the next round.

“People who maybe didn’t vote… because they thought Bolsonaro was going to lose… could vote in the next round,” Paz said.

Casaroes added: “Anyone who really cares about democracy in the country has to get off the couch. Occupying public space against a resurgent Bolsonarianism may be difficult, but it’s the only way to prevent Bolsonaro’s longstanding authoritarian project from taking hold.” All levels.”