Brazil’s top two presidential candidates will face each other in a run-off vote after neither got enough support to win outright on Sunday.
The election will decide if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office.
Former president left-winger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will now face-off against far-right incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro in a second round.
With 98.8% of the votes tallied in Sunday’s election, Mr da Silva had won 48.1% support against Mr Bolsonaro’s 43.5% - a much closer result than opinion polls had suggested.
As Lula fell short of the more than 50% of valid votes needed to prevent a run-off, voters now have four weeks to decide which of the two candidates to elect as leader.
Nine other candidates were also competing, but their support pales to that for Mr Bolsonaro and Mr da Silva.
Polls closed at 5pm on Sunday nationwide and as the vote is conducted electronically, initial results come out quickly, with the final results usually available a few hours later.
More than 150 million Brazilians were eligible to vote, but abstention rates can reach as high as 20%.
Close result ‘wasn’t predicted’
The election wound up being far tighter than anticipated, both in the presidential contest and those for governorships and congressional seats, with pre-election polls giving Mr da Silva a commanding lead.
The last Datafolha survey published on Saturday found a 50% to 36% advantage for Mr da Silva among those who intended to vote. The survey interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of two percentage points.
Nara Pavao, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco, said “this tight difference between Lula and Bolsonaro wasn’t predicted”, while Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, added: “It is too soon to go too deep, but this election shows Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 was not a hiccup.”
Mr Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil’s southeast region, which includes populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, according to Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria. He said: “The polls didn’t capture that growth”.
Mr Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticised handling of the Covid pandemic, which claimed almost 700,000 lives in Brazil, and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.
However, he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.
Meanwhile, Mr Da Silva is credited with building an extensive social welfare programme during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.
But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption scandals and his own convictions, which were later annulled by the Supreme Court.