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Story Publication logo October 3, 2022

Brazil’s Presidential Election Heads to Second Round As Candidates Fail To Win Majority


red wave leaves the Brazilian capitol

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

Video by PBS NewsHour. Brazil, 2022.

Four more weeks of a bruising campaign began in Brazil after none of the candidates won 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the presidential election. President Jair Bolsonaro outperformed polls that showed him losing badly against his leftist rival, former President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports.

Read the Full Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Four more weeks of a bruising campaign began in Brazil today, after none of the candidates won 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round of the presidential election.

Current President Jair Bolsonaro outperformed polls that showed him losing badly to his leftist rival, the former president Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva.

In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Sao Paulo, as the country enters a new period of uncertainty.

Jane Ferguson: As the results came in supporters of the former President Lula da Silva were jubilant. In the end, Lula got the most votes, but not the over 50 percent needed to win outright.

Brazilians will head back to the polls at the end of this month for a run-off.

Henrique, Lula Supporter (through translator): It was really close, but we believe in turning votes. We believe in Lula. We believe it is possible to win. We need this.

Jane Ferguson: The left-wing head of the Workers' Party was president from 2003 to 2011.

Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, Former Brazilian President (through translator): I have never won an election in the first round. I have won all of them in the second round, all of them. Here in the second round, what's important is the chance to think thoroughly on what you propose for society.

Jane Ferguson: The current president, right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, continued his campaign rhetoric, arguing he is a last defense against growing socialism in the region.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian President (through translator): What worries me is Brazil losing its freedom, Brazil following steps to the left, in the same path as Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Nicaragua. That's what I worry about, where the first victim is the freedom of the people.

Jane Ferguson: On the streets of Sao Paulo, Bolsonaro supporters were more subdued, but adamant he will remain in office.

Silvana Maria Leyser, Bolsonaro Supporter (through translator): There's a second round, and we must work. It will be the truth against the lies, God against corruption, the freedom of Jair Bolsonaro against the censorship of Lula.

Jane Ferguson: The mood here amongst Lula supporters is absolutely jubilant. This has turned into a street party.

But it's important you remember that this was not an outright victory. Bolsonaro is still very much so in this race, more so than predicted by the polls, some of which placed Bolsonaro behind Lula by as many as 14 percentage points. In the end, it was a much tighter race.

His levels of support, says Brazilian journalist and political columnist Patricia Campos Mello, were underestimated.

Patricia Campos Mello, Brazilian Reporter and Columnist: We realized the Brazilian population is much more conservative than we all imagine.

Jane Ferguson: Beyond the presidential race, Bolsonaro's party won the greatest share of seats in Congress.

Patricia Campos Mello: If Bolsonaro gets elected, he's going to be unstoppable. We have seen this with other leaders in other countries who get reelected, because he's going to have — Congress is going to be highly supportive of him.

Jane Ferguson: The current president has refused to say if he would accept the results of the presidential election if he loses. For months, he has called the electoral system corrupted against him. A narrow loss in the run-off may make it easier for him to contest results.

Patricia Campos Mello: We know that's going to happen if he loses. And this is going to be a very difficult institutional shock, because we have half the country who really support President Bolsonaro. And they believe this narrative that he has been sowing doubts about elections for years.

If he ends up losing in the second round, after showing that all the polls were wrong, it's going to be very hard to convince people that the elections were clean.

Brazilians have faced months of divisive, polarized political campaigning unprecedented in their democratic history. Sunday's election results proved just how narrowly split the country is politically and opened the door for one more month of fiery campaigning.

Judy Woodruff: And Jane joins me now from Sao Paulo.

So, hello, Jane.

As you reported, Bolsonaro beat the projections. He had more followers than were expected. What is his appeal to them?

Jane Ferguson: His appeal, Judy, that seems to be holding, as you have said, beyond the predictions and beyond many predictions, it's very much so a right-wing, populist one.

He has had a message from the start that is appealing to the evangelicals across the country, gun ownership, land rights for private property and for big business, as well as nationalism. And that's very much so holding here. It's also worth pointing out that his communication has been particularly sophisticated and successful.

He has bypassed a lot of the mainstream media and gone straight onto streaming platforms and messaging to reach his audience. And so that, in many ways, hasn't been very clearly helpful to the pollsters, as it appears, in terms of trying to gauge his support. And it seems that that support is holding much stronger than anyone predicted.

Judy Woodruff: And, Jane, we know there were other candidates in the race and the run-off. Their support is surely going to fall away. That's about 10 percent of the vote.

What is the sense of where their support is going to go, who they're going to back?

Jane Ferguson: That's right.

About 10 percent of the vote has been divided amongst other candidates, one of them Simone Tebet. But she is considered center right. It's not clear where her votes will go. You have also got Ciro Gomes. He is considered slightly more leftist. Neither of those candidates who got most of the remaining votes have said who they are going to back, but they're obviously in a particularly powerful position here.

They could influence the end result here and causing these two very extreme, polarized candidates to temper their message somewhat and come in perhaps a little from the very far left for Lula and perhaps temper a little bit of Bolsonaro's messaging. But we will see which way they decide to run in the next month, as the campaigning continues ahead of the October 30 run-off.

Judy Woodruff: For sure. And I know we will be watching this in the weeks to come.

Jane Ferguson reporting from Sao Paulo on Brazil's election.

Thank you, Jane.

Jane Ferguson: Thanks, Judy.