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Brazil's presidential election heads to a runoff between Lula and Bolsonaro

A street stall sells towels of presidential candidates Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 25 in São Paulo, Brazil.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a left-wing former president, finished in first place Sunday in Brazil's presidential election, but failed to secure enough votes for an outright victory and will face right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in an Oct. 30 run-off.

Despite preelection polls giving da Silva, who is widely known as Lula, a double-digit lead, the race was a nail-biter. In fact, da Silva trailed for much of the night before finally inching ahead and winning with about 47.9% of the vote, with about 97% of votes counted. President Bolsonaro was runner-up with about 43.6% in the 11-candidate race.

Sunday's voting was largely peaceful after a contentious, sometimes violent campaign in which Brazil's democracy seemed to hang in the balance. Bolsonaro, who has praised the past military dictatorship in Brazil, repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the election as it approached and his opinion poll numbers flagged.

"Lula represents democracy," said Julia Sottili, a museum worker who voted for da Silva because of what she described as Bolsonaro's authoritarian tendencies. "Lula wants to improve people's lives and end hunger. He is really concerned about human rights."

Campaigning will now continue for the next four weeks

Preelection polls put da Silva within striking distance of winning the presidency in the first round by securing more than half of the votes. But he came short, with Brazil now facing four more weeks of intense campaigning.

Still, the result was a kind of vindication for da Silva, who became a hero to many Brazilians during his two terms as president between 2003 and 2010 when a commodities-fueled economic boom helped lift millions out of poverty.

However, after leaving office he became ensnared in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that landed him in prison for a year and a half. His political career seemed over. Then, in a stunning turnaround, he was released on a technicality in 2019 and launched his campaign for the presidency — the sixth time he has run for the office.

By contrast, Bolsonaro's second-place finish on Sunday was a sobering result for the president whose erratic behavior and policy decisions cost him support.

Bolsonaro was swept to power four years ago by a coalition that included evangelical Christians, gunowners and other conservatives who were drawn to his pledge to uphold traditional family values and who were disgusted by the corruption scandals swirling around da Silva and his left-wing Workers Party.

But Bolsonaro, 67, has had a rough four years in office. He downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic and Brazil ended up with the second-highest COVID death toll in the world after the U.S. He's dealing with a stagnant economy, with high inflation and unemployment and rising poverty.

Bolsonaro spent months questioning the integrity of Brazil's electoral system, called on the military to oversee the counting of the ballots, and hinted that he might not leave power even if he lost. In the hours before the vote, he posted on his Twitter feed a video of former President Donald Trump urging people to vote for him.

All this provided an opening for da Silva, who is now 76 and a survivor of throat cancer. On the campaign trail he promised a return to the economic good times of his first two terms and portrayed himself as the man who could salvage Brazil's democracy — by beating Bolsonaro.

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