Lula defeated President Bolsonaro and won the election in Brazil

Updated October 30, 2022 at 11:04 PM ET

In just three years, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva went from prisoner to newly elected president.

After being jailed on corruption charges, the leftist da Silva staged a stunning political resurrection on Sunday by winning the second round of Brazil’s presidential election – in a nail-biter – over right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

Official results gave da Silva, who is a former two-term president, with 50.9% of the vote compared to 49.1% for Bolsonaro. Da Silva will be sworn in for a four-year term on January 1.

“I’m really happy,” said Victor Costelo, 33, who works in advertising, as he celebrated in the streets of Sao Paulo, which were packed with da Silva’s supporters, many wearing the red colors of his Workers’ Party. After four years of Bolsonaro, whom Costelo described as authoritarian, he said: “The next four years will be more promising for us.”

The extremely close race showed how politically polarized Brazil has become in recent years. Although the vote was largely peaceful, there were several violent incidents during the campaign, with authorities reporting the killing of at least four da Silva supporters at the hands of pro-Bolsonarian fanatics.

Bolsonaro, 67, a populist modeled after former US President Donald Trump, served as an army captain during Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship and filled his cabinet with former officers. He repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the election and the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting machines, and indicated that he would not have to accept the results if he lost.

His anti-democratic rhetoric has alarmed many Brazilians, while the 77-year-old da Silva has promised a return to normality.

“We will fix the country and you will be happy again,” he told voters ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Da Silva and Bolsonaro were the top two in the first round of the October 2 presidential election, which included 11 candidates. But neither da Silva nor Bolsonaro won more than half the votes needed for an outright victory, forcing a runoff election this weekend.

Da Silva has promised to raise the minimum wage and jump-start an economy that has been faltering since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Brazil, causing nearly 700,000 deaths – the world’s second-highest death toll after the US. He also pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest after deforestation hit a 15-year high under Bolsonaro.

Sunday’s victory was perhaps the most remarkable in da Silva’s roller-coaster political career.

After three failed presidential bids, da Silva was elected to office in 2002 and then re-elected in 2006. As president, he oversaw an economic boom that helped lift millions of people out of poverty, making him an icon of the Latin American left.

After leaving office, however, Lula became ensnared in a large-scale bribery scandal that landed him in prison for 580 days. His political career seemed to be over. But in 2019, he was dismissed on a technicality and launched another run for the presidency, which quickly gained enthusiastic support.

His victory will help solidify the leftward shift in Latin America, where from Mexico to Argentina, the largest countries are run by left-wing presidents.

World leaders were quick to congratulate da Silva on his victory.

“I send my congratulations to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on his election as the next president of Brazil after a free, fair and credible election,” President Biden said in a statement. “I look forward to working together in the continued cooperation between our two countries in the coming months and years.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet that he looks forward to working with the leader on shared priorities such as protecting the environment.

“The Brazilian people have spoken,” Trudeau said.

Bolsonaro did not immediately comment. But two of his close political allies, Finance Minister Paulo Guedes and Arthur Lira, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, appear to have conceded that Bolsonaro has lost.

Guedes tweeted: “Thank you for everything, Jair Bolsonaro.” Lira told reporters it was time for pro-Bolsonaro forces to reach out to the other side and deliver “long live democracy in Brazil.”

Addressing a victory rally in São Paulo, Da Silva acknowledged the divided nature of the electorate and called for national unity. But he couldn’t resist crowing about his ability to come back from political near death, saying of his opponents: “They tried to bury me alive, but I’m here… Today we tell the world that Brazil is back.”

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