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Lula becomes president of Brazil again with narrow victory

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated President Jair Bolsonaro in a runoff election on Sunday, with the leftist former president bringing an end to Brazil’s most right-wing government in decades.

Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court declared Mr Lula the next president, with 50.9 percent of votes versus 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro. The 77-year-old Lula’s inauguration is scheduled for January 1.

“We didn’t face an opponent, we didn’t face a candidate – we faced the Brazilian state machine placed at the service of the candidate of the situation to try to prevent us from winning the elections,” he claimed, in his first address as President-elect.

Mr Bolsonaro, who emerged from the back benches of Congress to forge a novel conservative coalition, lost support as Brazil ran up one of the worst death tolls of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Bolsonaro remained silent on Sunday night after the results were announced and some of his allies publicly acknowledged his defeat, defying expectations by leftist media that he might immediately challenge the narrow result after making claims of fraud in previous elections.

Mr Lula arrived at a rally in Sao Paulo shortly after 8:00 p.m. (1100 GMT), waving from the sunroof of a car.

Ecstatic supporters near Paulista Avenue waited for the socialist, chanting slogans and drinking champagne.

Brazilians flocked to polling stations at Brazil’s main cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Sao Paulo as well as in the Amazonian riverside communities. Some 120 million voters were expected to punch their choices into electronic voting machines that Mr Bolsonaro has criticised as fraud-prone.

By the time the Superior Electoral Court’s president, Alexandre de Moraes, confirmed Lula da Silva’s narrow win, supporters had already filled Sao Paulo’s Paulista Avenue to celebrate his comeback. Mr Lula later joined the crowds on a stage and addressed some words to the attendees.

Pink tide
Lula’s victory consolidates a new ‘pink tide’ in Latin America, echoing a regional political shift two decades ago that introduced Lula to the world stage.

In recent years, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Honduras, Bolivia and Peru have also voted in left-wing governments. The pink tide was deemed to have been led by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who was elected president in 1998.

Mr Lula has vowed a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped lift millions out of poverty when he was president from 2003 to 2010. He also promises to combat the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and make Brazil a leader in global climate talks.

A former union leader born into poverty, Mr Lula organised strikes against Brazil’s military government in the 1970s. His two-term presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom.

Mr Lula was jailed in 2018 for 19 months on bribery convictions. However, the Supreme Court overturned it last year.

Mr Lula and the Workers Party he heads were accused of looting pension funds, embezzling public funds, and giving out illegal contracts that cost Brazilian taxpayers billions of dollars while in power.

In his third term, Mr Lula will confront a sluggish economy, tighter budget constraints, and a more hostile legislature.

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