Former president makes comeback as Jair Bolsonaro loses Brazil election

In a result that could be a significant boost for the future of the Amazon rainforest, Jair Bolsonaro has been voted out of office - Emma Murphy reports

Right-winger Jair Bolsonaro has lost in the Brazilian presidential election to left-winger Lula da Silva in a result that could have major implications for the Amazon rainforest.

The vote pit an incumbent vowing to safeguard conservative Christian values against a former president promising a return to a more prosperous past.

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.

Finally, on Sunday, results showed Brazilians have opted for Mr da Silva, who has promised to protect the Amazon and make tackling the climate crisis a priority - something Mr Bolsonaro has been repeatedly accused of failing to do.

However, fears remain that Mr Bolsonaro will not accept the result, having consistently questioned the process throughout what was a bitterly-fought campaign that widened divisions in the country.

Jair Bolsonaro's administration has been criticised. Credit: AP

Mr Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values and presenting himself as protection from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.

Mr Da Silva is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class as well as presiding over an economic boom.

The man universally known as Lula left office with an approval rating above 80%, with then-US President Barack Obama calling him “the most popular politician on Earth.”

But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption revealed by sprawling investigations.

Mr Da Silva’s arrest in 2018 kept him out of that year’s race against Bolsonaro, a fringe lawmaker at the time who was an outspoken fan of former US President Donald Trump.

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro embrace as results come in. Credit: AP

He was jailed for for 580 days for corruption and money laundering, but his convictions were later annulled by Brazil’s top court, which ruled the presiding judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors.

That enabled Mr da Silva to run for the nation’s highest office for the sixth time.

Mr Da Silva has pledged to boost spending on the poor, re-establish relationships with foreign governments and take bold action to eliminate illegal clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest.

He hasn’t provided specific plans on how he will achieve those goals, and faces many challenges.

The president-elect will be confronted by strong opposition from conservative lawmakers likely to take their cues from Mr Bolsonaro.

Rishi Sunak congratulated Mr da Silva on his appointment and said that he looks forward to working with the new president on "growing the global economy".

US President Joe Biden also congratulated his Brazilian counterpart on "fair, and credible elections".

He added: "I look forward to working together to continue the cooperation between our two countries in the months and years ahead."French President Emmanuel Macron also took to Twitter to congratulate Mr da Silva.

He wrote: "Congratulations, dear @LulaOficial, for your election which opens a new page in the history of Brazil. Together, we will join forces to meet the many common challenges and renew the bond of friendship between our two countries."

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