In just three years, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has gone from prisoner to president-elect. After being jailed on corruption charges, the left-wing da Silva engineered a stunning political resurrection on Sunday by winning Brazil's presidential runoff election — in a nail-biter — over right-wing incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro.
Official returns gave da Silva, who is a former two-term president, 50.9% of the vote compared to 49.1% for Bolsonaro. Da Silva will be sworn-in for a four-year term on Jan. 1.
The extremely tight race showed how politically polarized Brazil has become in recent years. Although the balloting was largely peaceful, there were several violent incidents during the campaign with authorities reporting the killings of at least four da Silva supporters at the hands of pro-Bolsonaro fanatics.
Bolsonaro, 67, a populist in the mold of former U.S. President Donald Trump, served as an army captain during Brazil's military dictatorship that lasted from 1964-85 and filled his cabinet with former officers. He repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the election and the reliability of Brazil's electronic voting machines and hinted that he might not accept the results if he lost.
His anti-democratic rhetoric alarmed many Brazilians, while 77-year-old da Silva promised a return to normality.
Da Silva has promised to increase the minimum wage and jump-start the economy, which has been flagging since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Brazil and caused nearly 700,000 deaths – the world's second-highest death toll after the U.S. He has also pledged to protect the Amazon rainforest after deforestation hit a 15-year high under Bolsonaro.
His victory will help consolidate a leftward shift in Latin America where, from Mexico to Argentina, the biggest countries are run by leftist presidents.
Da Silva, speaking at a victory rally in São Paulo, acknowledged the divided nature of the electorate and called for national unity.
But he couldn't resist crowing about his ability to come back from a political near-death, saying of his adversaries: "They tried to bury me alive, but I'm here. ... Today, we are saying to the world that Brazil is back."