Leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated his bitter rival, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, to secure his return as Brazil’s leader Sunday after a tightly fought race in the world’s fourth-largest democracy.
The country’s Superior Electoral Court verified the win.
The court said da Silva secured slightly more than 50.84% of the vote, with 99.10% of votes counted, in a runoff election that was held after neither candidate got enough support to win outright this month.
Pre-election polls had given da Silva, a former metalworker and union leader known universally as “Lula,” a commanding lead.
Bolsonaro, who had repeatedly stoked fears he may seek to contest and cast doubt on the result if he lost, did not immediately concede defeat.
Da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.
But his administration is also remembered for vast corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives. Da Silva was convicted on corruption and money laundering charges, leading to 19 months in prison that sidelined him in the 2018 presidential election against Bolsonaro.
Brazil’s Supreme Court annulled the prosecution last year on the ground that the judge had colluded with prosecutors.
Da Silva promised during his campaign to help Brazil’s most vulnerable communities, crack down on illegal deforestation and set up a new Indigenous peoples’ ministry.
Bolsonaro, who did better than expected in the election this month, built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and advancing a culture war agenda.
Widely blamed for mishandling the Covid crisis, he has more recently beefed up his pandemic-era Brazil Aid welfare program to redistribute funds to poorer Brazilians in a last-ditch attempt to woo voters to the right.
He has frequently described Brazil as “spiritually sick” and presented himself as a godly defender against “cultural Marxism” and perceived leftist infringement on personal liberties.
Throughout the election, he repeatedly laid the groundwork for rejecting the results in a contest that was rife with misinformation, and he insisted that Brazil’s electronic voting machines are prone to fraud.
He has never produced evidence for the claims.
Environmental campaigners around the globe watched the election with bated breath and may be buoyed by the result.
Brazil, the home to the Amazon rainforest, known as the “lungs of the world,” reached its highest point of deforestation in 15 years this summer, with protected areas particularly affected, according to The Associated Press.
Bolsonaro vowed not to grant “one more centimeter” of land to Indigenous people and criticized police for destroying illegal mining equipment during raids.
Da Silva’s own legacy on the environment is also sticky. Although his first administration reduced forest loss by 84% by 2012, he also presided over the construction of controversial and destructive hydroelectric dams in the Amazon area.
Nevertheless, he promised green tax subsidies and plans to grant protected status to nearly 200,000 square miles of the Amazon.
Associated Press, Reuters and Dennis Romero contributed.