A Brazilian voter holds a banner picturing presidential candidate Lula da Silva after casting her ballot as she leaves a polling station during the second round of the Brazilian presidential election at Casa do Brasil, in Madrid, Spain, on Sunday. Photo by Fernando Villar/EPA-EFE
Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Brazilian voters elected left-wing politician Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva president on Sunday over far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro in a tight runoff that was closely watched by the United States and the rest of the world.
Official results showed Lula had secured 50.9% of the vote to Bolsonaro's 49.1%, with 99.9% of all ballots counted.
After the election had been called, Lula posted a picture of his left hand, which is missing its pinky finger from a work accident, resting against the Brazilian flag to Twitter with the one-word caption: "Democracy."
"Brazil has a way. Together we will be able to fix this country and build a Brazil the size of our dreams with opportunities to turn them into reality," he said in a statement.
"The new Brazil that we will build from Jan. 1 is not only of interest to the Brazilian people, but to all people who work for peace, solidarity and fraternity, anywhere in the world."
The runoff election comes after neither candidate secured a majority during the first round of voting earlier this month, which Lula was favored to win. The latest polls from the IPEC Institute released on Saturday showed Lula winning the runoff with 54% of the vote to 46% for Bolsonaro.
The results of the election, between polar opposite candidates, are expected to have far-reaching implications, including on the future of the Amazon rainforest, political stability in Latin America and international trade.
Polls opened in Brazil at 8 a.m. and ran until 5 p.m. Dual citizens in the United States were permitted to vote at consular offices.
"Today is possibly the most important day of Oct. 30 of my life. And I think it is a very important day for the Brazilian people because today the people are defining the model of Brazil they want, the model of life they want," Lula said Sunday, according to Brazilian broadcaster Globo.
Following Lula's election on Sunday, world leaders began to send their congratulations, with U.S. President Joe Biden calling the election "free, fair and credible."
"I look forward to working together to continue the cooperation between our two countries in the months and years ahead," Biden said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau similarly congratulated Lula on his win.
"The people of Brazil have spoken," he said, adding he looks forward to working with him "to strengthen the partnership between our countries, to deliver results for Canadian and Brazilian and to advance share priorities -- like protecting the environment."
Lula, a former union leader, previously led Brazil through a period of growth as president from 2003 to 2010, during which he introduced social programs to combat poverty in the country and revitalized the nation's oil industry.
However, Brazil's Public Ministry opened a sweeping investigation into corruption allegations in 2015 and he was convicted in January 2018 of having accepted more than $1 million in bribes from the country's Petrobras oil company and collaborated in a money-laundering scheme.
That year, Bolsonaro rose to the presidency on campaign promises to fight corruption and develop the nation's economy further.
Lula was sentenced to 12 years in prison and appealed. He was released in November 2019 when Brazil's federal supreme court ruled that incarcerations with pending appeals were unlawful. His convictions were ultimately nullified last year.
Bolsonaro, a 67-year-old retired military officer, has faced widespread criticism in Brazil and abroad for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, his policies on deforestation in the Amazon and his attacks on the country's electoral system -- alleging he could only lose by voter fraud.
His comments on election security have raised concerns of violence and for Brazil's democracy, with the Association of Federal Judges of Brazil, which represents the entirety of the Brazilian federal judiciary, quickly posting its vote of confidence in the results after they were called.
The association said the election conducted by the Superior Electoral Court was done "with total transparency and serenity."
"The exercise of democracy and free expression of the popular will were once again manifested by the Brazilian population, who holds the power of choice over the future of the country," it said in a public note. "Brazilian judges and federal judges will continue to defend the democratic state of law and the will of the people manifested at the polls."
Under Bolsonaro's presidency, deforestation in the Amazon has risen to a 15-year high and rose by 81% in August alone, according to the Climate Observatory. The country is also suffering from inflation levels higher than 8%.
The United States was paying particularly close attention to the Brazilian election and Bolsonaro has touted his friendship with former President Donald Trump, who endorsed him in the election.
"This is going to be one of the most intense and dramatic elections in the 21st century," former Trump aide Steve Bannon told the BBC, describing the Brazilian leader as a "great hero" for nationalist populism around the world.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the BBC that "the fate of Brazil's democracy and of U.S. relations with Brazil will be decided in the upcoming election."
"Brazil needs a government that takes care of our people again, especially those who need it most," Lula said in a statement Saturday.
"It needs peace, democracy and dialogue. With credibility, predictability and stability in the economy. Let's rebuild Brazil together."