Lula da Silva has narrowly won the runoff election for Brazilian president against Jair Bolsonaro. The incumbent president has not yet accepted his defeat, stoking fears of violent confrontations. Enormous challenges await the new President, Lula. He must fight poverty in Brazil, stop deforestation in the Amazon and bring a divided country back together.

Left-wing trade union leader and ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has won the election for president of Brazil. With 50.9 percent of the vote, he narrowly beat the far-right incumbent president Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the runoff. Lula had already won the first round of voting. However, the runoff was closer than expected. At the beginning of the count, Bolsonaro was even in the lead for some time.

Congratulations on Lula’s election success quickly followed from the U.S., the EU and other countries. Bolsonaro himself has not yet commented on the election results.

Election shows divided Brazil

Lula won many votes, especially in northern Brazil. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, was strong in the south of the country. This is mainly due to economic reasons. The north is significantly weaker economically than the south. The population in the northern states has benefited from the social programs that Lula introduced during his time as president (2003-2010). In addition, Lula has received a lot of support in states that have a large Afro-Brazilian population, such as Bahia. The states where Bolsonaro has many supporters are dominated by European immigrants, such as Santa Catarina. Bolsonaro has repeatedly made racist statements against minorities in Brazil.

Red = Lula, Blue = Bolsonaro. Source: Screenshot from The GuardianRed = Lula, Blue = Bolsonaro. Photo: Screenshot from The Guardian

Another important power factor has been Brazil’s evangelical population, which is growing rapidly. Bolsonaro built his political power on this group. He presented himself as a defender of the Christian faith, agitated against homosexuals and spoke out vehemently against abortion. Lula tried to appeal more to this group of voters before the second round of elections. The union leader scored particularly well with Brazil’s female population. During his time in office, he campaigned for more equal rights. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, repeatedly attracted attention with misogynistic statements.

Bolsonaro’s coup fantasies

In the course of the election campaign, there were repeated acts of violence. Several Lula supporters were murdered, including an official of Lula’s Workers’ Party. Many political observers fear that more violence could occur if Bolsonaro does not accept his electoral defeat.

Even before the election, the far-right president had repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the electoral process. He even went so far as to suggest a military coup if he failed to win the election.

Before entering politics, Bolsonaro was an officer in the Brazilian army. Even today, he has close ties to the armed forces. He recruited many of his government members from their ranks. Nevertheless, a military coup is considered unlikely. Although Brazil is a comparatively young democracy, democratic structures are strongly entrenched among the population, and there is little support in the army for a renewed military dictatorship.

Bolsonaro’s great idol is former U.S. President Donald Trump. Political observers fear that Bolsonaro could take as his model the attacks against Joe Biden’s election victory and on the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters.

New start for Brazil

A daunting task awaits Lula. He must reunite a divided country and boost a flagging economy. The Corona crisis has hit Brazil particularly hard. Nearly 700,000 people have died from the virus and millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods. As a result, poverty has risen massively and hunger has once again spread across the country. Today, 60 percent more people in Brazil suffer from hunger than did before Bolsonaro took office. Lula argues that Bolsonaro’s disastrous crisis management, which talked down the virus as a “mild flu” and blocked an effective fight against the pandemic, is primarily to blame for the human and economic misery. He wants to give Brazil a new lease on life through increased social spending for the country’s poorest and government loans for small and medium-sized businesses.

In addition, there are massive environmental problems. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon has reached new heights. As a result, the planet’s green lung has emitted more CO2 than it has sequestered for the first time during his tenure. Lula wants to stop deforestation of the rainforest and replant cleared areas. He also fell stronger action against illegal gold mining in the Amazon and strengthen the rights of the indigenous population.

The tasks facing the new, old president seem overwhelming. However, Lula has already proven in the past that he can achieve great things. During his time in office, he was able to halve poverty in Brazil from 40 to 20 percent and reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent.