Da Silva - known as Lula, received 50.9% of the vote and Bolsonaro 49.1%, according to the country’s election authority. Yet hours after the results were in – and congratulations poured in from world leaders – Mr Bolsonaro had yet to publicly concede or react in any way.
Lula, the country’s president from 2003-2010, has promised to restore Brazil’s more prosperous past, yet faces headwinds in a polarised society. The win is a stunning return to power for Lula, 77, whose 2018 imprisonment over a corruption scandal sidelined him from that year’s election, paving the way for then-candidate Bolsonaro’s win and four years of far-right politics.
He was jailed for 580 days for corruption and money laundering and his convictions were later annulled by Brazil’s top court, which ruled the presiding judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors. That enabled Lula to run for president for the sixth time.
His victory marks the first time since Brazil’s 1985 return to democracy that the sitting president has failed to win re-election. Lula’s inauguration is scheduled to take place on 1 January.
Bolsonaro had been leading throughout the first half of the count and, as soon as Lula overtook him, cars in the streets of central Sao Paulo began honking their horns. Lula’s headquarters in a central Sao Paulo hotel only erupted once the final result was announced, underscoring the tension that was a hallmark of this race.
Right-wing Bolsonaro has campaigned on safeguarding conservative Christian values against former president - who has promised to return the country to a more prosperous past. Both are well-known, divisive political figures who stir passion as much as loathing. Bolsonaro has been president of Brazil since January 2019.
The 67-year-old has often been referred to as the ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’ His controversial policies - including a lack of action during the Covid-19 pandemic, a lack of protection for Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and pro gun policies - have lead to criticism from domestic and foreign voices.
Lula was one of the founding members of the left-wing Worker’s Party. His policies include breaking down Brazil’s public spending cap and reforming the country’s tax system to benefit the poorer in society more than the rich.
The former president has vowed reinstate environmental protection policies in the Amazon, which has seen a surge in deforestation and increased attacks against Indigenous people in recent years.
Brazilians have begun voting to determine if the world’s fourth-largest democracy stays the same course of far-right politics or returns a leftist to the top job, and, in the latter case, whether Bolsonaro will accept defeat.
Bolsonaro was first in line to cast his vote at a military complex in Rio de Janeiro. He sported the green and yellow colours of the Brazilian flag that always feature at his rallies.
“I’m expecting our victory, for the good of Brazil,” he told reporters afterward. “God willing, Brazil will be victorious today.”
Voting stations in the capital, Brasilia, were crowded by morning and, at one of them, retired public servant Luiz Carlos Gomes said he would vote for Lula.
“He’s the best for the poor, especially in the countryside,” said Mr Gomes, 65, who hails from Maranhao state in the poor northeast region. “We were always starving before him.”
What happened in the first vote?
Bolsonaro has had some catching up to do to Lula after the first round of voting. The results finished in favour of Lula, who won 48.43% of the vote.
Many saw this close race as a surprise, however Lula fell short of gaining the 50% threshold for winning the presidency from the first round of voting. With such a close share of votes between the two candidates, it will be a closely fought run-off vote.
Bolsonaro has already began echoing the spirit of Donald Trump, by making premature accusations of electoral fraud following the first-round vote. Many critics of Bolsonaro have accused the president of building the foundation of an argument if Lula does in fact succeed in defeating him in the run-off.
What has Lula said about the victory?
Lula said in a speech on Sunday evening at a hotel in downtown Sao Paulo: “Today the only winner is the Brazilian people. It’s the victory of a democratic movement that formed above political parties, personal interests and ideologies so that democracy came out victorious.”
He added: “We did not face an opponent, a candidate. We faced the machine of the Brazilian state put at his service so we could not win the election.”
Lula has pledged to boost spending on the poor, re-establish relationships with foreign governments and take bold action to eliminate illegal clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest.
“We will once again monitor and do surveillance in the Amazon. We will fight every illegal activity,” he said in his speech. “At the same time, we will promote sustainable development of communities in the Amazon.”
The new president is promising to govern beyond his party and says he wants to bring in centrists and even some leaning to the right, and to restore the kind of prosperity the country enjoyed when he last served as president from 2003-2010.
This was the country’s tightest election since its return to democracy in 1985, and the first time that a sitting president failed to win re-election. Just over two million votes separated the two candidates; the previous closest race, in 2014, was decided by a margin of roughly 3.5 million votes.
Among world leaders offering congratulations on Sunday night was US President Joe Biden, who in a statement highlighted the country’s “free, fair, and credible elections”. The European Union also commended the electoral authority for its effectiveness and transparency throughout the campaign.