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Story Publication logo November 1, 2022

Brazil’s Former Leftist Leader ‘Lula’ Defeats Incumbent Far-Right President Bolsonaro


red wave leaves the Brazilian capitol

The future of Brazil's rainforest and democracy hang in the balance.

Video courtesy of PBS NewsHour.

Brazil will have a new president come January and he knows the job well. Former two-term President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beat incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by two million votes in Sunday's closely-watched runoff election. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports with producer Charles Lyons. 


Judy Woodruff: Brazil will have a new president come January. And he knows the job well. Former two-term President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva beat the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, by two million votes in yesterday's closely watched run-off election. With producer Charles Lyons in Rio, and in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports.

Jane Ferguson: From the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo's bustling streets and all across Brazil, the people have spoken, and sitting President Jerry Bolsonaro is out. The right-wing populist lost narrowly to left-wing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian President-Elect (through translator): On this historic October 30, the majority of Brazilians made it very clear that they want more and not less democracy, that they want more and not less social inclusion and opportunities for all.

Jane Ferguson: The results mark an astonishing comeback for Lula, who was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges that were later overturned. With just two million votes separating the candidates, this was the narrowest victory in Brazil's 37-year-old democracy. Flavia Barbosa is the executive editor of leading Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

Flavia Barbosa, Executive Editor, O Globo: When we listened to president-elect Lula last night, what he said was: I get the message from the polls. I hear what voters said, what half of the voters have said, but there are no two countries, there are no two Brazils. We have just one and we have to reconcile them.

Jane Ferguson: This is the first time ever an incumbent has failed to win a second term. Bolsonaro supporters on the streets of Rio Sunday night were devastated.

Maurileia Figueiredo, Bolsonaro Supporter (through translator): A disaster, because we didn't hope for renovation. We had a hope for the homeland, family and renovation of values that were long lost and were rescued through Bolsonaro. I want justice to be served. The war is not over. We will be able to revert this result.

Jane Ferguson: Throughout his reelection campaign, Bolsonaro accused the voting system of corruption and undermined the result long before anyone went to the polls. Now many of his supporters do not believe he lost.

Alusio Marcondes, Bolsonaro Supporter: If he says he lost, we will accept it. It depends on him, which I do not — I do not think he is going to do, because he never lost. He is the great winner.

Jane Ferguson: Lula supporters gathered in Sao Salvador Square in Rio last night, didn't wait one moment to celebrate, as the enormity of Lula's remarkable comeback sunk in. Many people were overwhelmed with emotion.

Briza Saboya, Lula Supporter: I believe the victory showed the world that we are not dead. We are alive.

Jane Ferguson: Expectations among his followers are very high.

Briza Saboya: I can buy more food in the supermarket. I believe the energy, will be easy to buy it also. I believe that gas will be fine to buy also. I believe gay people will be free again. I believe that Black people will be free again.

Jane Ferguson: Given that Lula faces a staunchly pro-Bolsonaro Congress and declining global economic conditions, these things will be hard to deliver. How realistic are the expectations placed on Lula's shoulders right now? Are Lula supporters in the long run going to be disappointed by what they see in the coming years?

Flavia Barbosa: It's impossible. As you mentioned, expectations are too high. And he will face many constraints, both on political and economic realms. We do not have money enough to cover everything that we need by now.

Jane Ferguson: To do that, Lula will have to compromise to work closely with all parties, says Barbosa.

Flavia Barbosa: So, if he succeeds in bringing to government this kind of alliance from left to right, if he succeeds in making a government that reflects that, then I think a Brazilian way of doing politics can be regenerated and be rescued.

Jane Ferguson: Yet Brazil remains dangerously divided, the country's political discourse blighted by vicious, insult-riddled attacks, supported with misinformation on social media, all of which are likely to be used in the coming months before Lula enters the palace on January 1. The vote for a new president is over. The next challenge is a peaceful democratic transfer of power.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jane Ferguson.