Lula stages stunning comeback to beat far-right Bolsonaro in Brazil election | Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Brazil’s leftist former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvasealed a stunning political comeback by defeating far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in one of the most important and deadly elections in the country’s history.

With 99.97% of the votes counted, Silva, a former factory worker who became Brazil’s first working-class president exactly 20 years ago, obtained 50.9% of the votes. Bolsonaro, an arsonist elected in 2018, obtained 49.10%.

Speaking to reporters at a São Paulo hotel, Lula pledged to reunite his country after a toxic race for power that has deeply divided one of the world’s largest democracies.

“We are going to live new times of peace, love and hope,” said the 77-year-old, who was sidelined in the 2018 elections that saw Bolsonaro claim power after being jailed on charges of corruption which were later cancelled.

“I will govern for 215 million Brazilians… and not just for those who voted for me. There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people – one great nation,” he said to applause. “It is in no one’s interest to live in a country divided and in a permanent state of war.”

A few blocks away, on Paulista Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, ecstatic supporters of Lula gathered to celebrate his victory and the downfall of a radical right-wing president whose presidency produced a environmental tragedy and saw nearly 700,000 Brazilians die from Covid.

“Our dream is coming true. We need to be free,” said Joe Kallif, a 62-year-old social activist who was among the elated crowd. “Brazil was in a very dangerous place and now we are getting our freedom back. The last four years have been horrible.

Gabrielly Soares, a 19-year-old student, jumped for joy as she commemorated the impending victory of a leader whose social policies helped her get a college education.

“I feel so happy…During Bolsonaro’s four years I saw my family recede and under Lula they prospered,” she said, a rainbow banner draped over her shoulders .

Ecstatic, tearful supporters of Lula – who won more than 59 million votes to Bolsonaro’s 57 million – hugged each other and threw cans of beer into the air.

“It means we’re going to have someone in power who cares about those down there. Right now we have a person who doesn’t care about the majority, about us LGBT people,” Soares said. “Bolsonaro… is a bad person. He does not show a drop of empathy or solidarity towards others. There is no way he can continue as president.

There were also celebrations in the region as leftist allies tweeted their congratulations. “Viva Lula,” said Colombian leader Gustavo Petro.

Argentinian President Alberto Fernández celebrated “a new era in the history of Latin America”. “An era of hope and a future that begins now,” he said.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador commemorated what he called a victory for “equality and humanism”.

Joe Biden released a statement congratulating Lula on his election “following free, fair and credible elections”.

“I look forward to working together to continue the cooperation between our two countries in the months and years to come,” the US President said.

Justin Trudeau said: “The Brazilian people have spoken. I look forward to working with @LulaOficial strengthen the partnership between our countries, deliver results for Canadians and Brazilians, and advance shared priorities, such as environmental protection. Congratulations Luna!”

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who ruled before Lula’s historic election 20 years ago, tweeted: “Democracy won, Brazil won!

French President Emmanuel Macron said Lula’s election “starts a new chapter in the history of Brazil” while Spanish President Pedro Sánchez called Lula’s triumph a step towards “progress and hope”.

The swift international response reflected widespread fears that Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has spent years attacking Brazil’s democratic institutions, may refuse to accept defeat. Ahead of the election, he said he would challenge a result he considered “abnormal”.

Outside Bolsonaro’s home in western Rio, there was despondency and anger when the news broke. “I’m angry,” said Monique Almeido, a 36-year-old beautician. “I don’t even know what to say.”

João Reis, a 50-year-old electrician, said he was convinced the vote had been rigged.

“It’s fraud without a doubt, they manipulated the count. The armed forces must intervene,” he demanded.

What if they didn’t? “The population must take to the streets to demand military intervention so that we do not hand over power to the communists.”

At Lula’s celebrations, the mood was very different as the veteran left-winger vowed to wage war on hunger, racism and fight the environmental destruction that soared under Bolsonaro. “We will fight for zero deforestation in the Amazon…Brazil and the planet need the Amazon to be alive.”

“We will relaunch the control and surveillance of the Amazon and fight any type of illegal activity,” he promised. “We are not interested in a war for the environment but we are ready to defend it against any threat.”

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