Brazil finishes voting in polarising presidential election

The campaign has widened divisions in the country - and the result could have profound implications for the Amazon rainforest and global warming, as Emma Murphy reports

Brazilians have finished voting in a polarising election that pits an incumbent vowing to safeguard conservative Christian values against a former president promising a to a more prosperous past.

The presidential runoff shaped up as a close contest between President Jair Bolsonaro and his political nemesis, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The vote will determine if the world’s fourth-largest democracy stays the same course of far-right politics or returns a leftist to the top job – and, in the latter case, whether Mr Bolsonaro will accept defeat.

The result is expected at around 10pm UK time.

Mr Bolsonaro was first in line to cast his vote at a military complex in Rio de Janeiro. He sported the green and yellow colours of the Brazilian flag that always feature at his rallies.

A van with the photo of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro driven through Rio de Janeiro. Credit: AP

“I'm expecting our victory, for the good of Brazil,” he told reporters afterwards. “God willing, we will be victorious this afternoon. Actually, Brazil will be victorious.”

Voting stations in the capital, Brasilia, were already crowded by morning and, at one of them, retired government worker Luiz Carlos Gomes said he would vote for da Silva.

“He’s the best for the poor, especially in the countryside,” said Mr Gomes, 65, who hails from Maranhao state in the poor northeast region. “We were always starving before him."

More than 120 million Brazilians are expected to cast ballots, and because the vote is conducted electronically, the final result is usually available within hours after voting stations close in the late afternoon.

Most opinion polls gave a lead to Mr da Silva, universally known as Lula, though political analysts agreed the race grew increasingly tight in recent weeks.

For months, it appeared that Mr da Silva was headed for easy victory as he kindled nostalgia for his 2003-2010 presidency, when Brazil's economy was booming and welfare helped tens of millions join the middle class.

But while Mr da Silva topped the October 2 first-round elections with 48% of the vote, Mr Bolsonaro was a strong second at 43%, showing opinion polls significantly underestimated his popularity.

Many Brazilians support Mr Bolsonaro's defence of conservative social values and he has shored up support with vast government spending.

A rally of Lula da Silva's supporters packed Sao Paulo. Credit: AP

Mr Da Silva voted on Sunday morning in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a city outside Sao Paulo, where he lived for decades and started his political career as a union leader.

He wore white, as he often has during the campaign, rather than his party’s red.

“Today we are choosing the kind of Brazil we want, how we want our society to organise. People will decide what kind of life they want,” Mr da Silva told reporters.

“That’s why this is the most important day of my life. I am convinced that Brazilians will vote for a plan under which democracy wins.”