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What Sunday’s Bolsonaro-Lula Runoff Means for Brazil

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, waves a Brazilian flag at a rally earlier in July. 

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, waves a Brazilian flag at a rally earlier in July. 

Photographer: Maira Erlich/Bloomberg
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Brazil’s runoff presidential election on Sunday pits two larger-than-life figures representing opposite ends of the political spectrum: the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who ruled the country from 2003 to 2010. Lula outperformed Bolsonaro during the first round of voting, 48% to 43%, but fell short of the outright victory that some had predicted. The outcome of the runoff will have profound implications for Latin America’s biggest and most populous nation.

Lula, a leftist and former labor union leader, is revered by those who credit him with implementing social policies that lifted millions out of poverty during his two terms in office, and reviled by others who see him as a symbol of corruption. He was found guilty of money laundering and corruption in 2017 and sentenced to almost 10 years in prison, preventing him from running in the elections that brought Bolsonaro to power four years ago and tarnishing his image with millions of Brazilians. A 77-year-old cancer survivor, he was released in 2019 after a change in appeal laws, and the nation’s top court annulled his conviction on procedural grounds in 2021, clearing the way for him to stage a political comeback. Bolsonaro, 67, is a former army captain who was stabbed while on the campaign trail in 2018 and has been hospitalized several times as a result of that attack. His supporters consider him a guardian of traditional family values and an anti-corruption crusader, important campaign topics in a generally conservative nation. The president’s opponents have labeled him a far-right authoritarian and accuse him of advancing sexism, racism and homophobia.