Brazil’s top two presidential candidates were neck-and-neck late Sunday in a highly polarized election that could determine if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office for another four years.
The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political nemesis, leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. There are nine other candidates, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva.
With 70% of votes counted, Bolsonaro had 45.8%, ahead of da Silva with 45.3%, according to the electoral authority. It isn’t yet clear if either of the two candidates will be able to claim an outright victory. A possible runoff is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Recent opinion polls have given da Silva a commanding lead — the last Datafolha survey published Saturday found a 50% to 36% advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of two percentage points.
Strongholds of the far-right leader, such as the states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, had counted more than half their votes as of 7:20 p.m. local time. The count in states where da Silva and his Workers’ Party have polled better, such as northeastern Bahia and Ceara, were still in the low 20’s.
But that didn’t fully explain how tight the race was, according to Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria. Bolsonaro was outperforming in Brazil’s southeast region, which includes populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states.
“The polls didn’t capture that growth,” he said. “Now we need to see if the Workers’ Party recovers in the northeast, where the count is still delayed.”