What to know about the high-stakes Brazil election

A man walks in front of towels featuring Brazilian presidential candidates.
A demonstrator dressed in the colors of the Brazilian flag performs in front of a street vendor’s towels for sale featuring Brazilian presidential candidates, current President Jair Bolsonaro, center, and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia, Brazil, Sept. 27, 2022.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

Brazil is days from a presidential election featuring two political titans and bitter rivals that could usher in another four years of far-right politics or return a leftist to the nation’s top job.

On one side is incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who built a base of hardcore support as a culture warrior with a conservative ideology. He has deployed government funds in what is widely seen as an effort to drum up last-minute votes. His adversary, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, has sought to kindle nostalgia for his years presiding over an economic boom and social inclusion.

Here’s what you need to know about the Brazilian presidential runoff, which is on Oct. 30.

How often are elections in Brazil?

Brazil holds general elections once every four years, choosing state and federal representatives as well as the president, governors and some senators. Mayors, city councilors and remaining senators are also chosen every four years, but on different years.


How many times can a person be elected president in Brazil?

There is no limit to the number of times one can be elected president in Brazil, but the person can serve only two consecutive terms. That is why Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, can run this year.

The surprise result of Sunday’s presidential election shows a Brazil that remains highly polarized as it heads into an Oct. 30 runoff.

Oct. 3, 2022

Wasn’t there already a Brazilian election?

Brazil held its first round of voting Oct. 2, electing lawmakers at state and federal levels. Gubernatorial candidates garnering more than 50% of valid votes, which exclude blank and spoiled ballots, were also confirmed.

None of the 11 presidential candidates got an outright majority, setting up a runoff between Lula, who had 48% of the votes, and Bolsonaro with 43%. Polls had significantly understated the support for the president and his allies, prompting backlash.

What happens in the Oct. 30 election?

It’s a runoff for the presidency and for governorships in states where no candidate won a first-round majority. Most polls 2½ weeks after the first round show Lula retaining a slight lead over Bolsonaro.

What are Bolsonaro’s policies?

During the campaign, Bolsonaro has often repeated his guiding principles: “God, family, country.” He portrays Brazil as spiritually ill and presents himself as a Christian soldier standing guard against cultural Marxism. He has loosened restrictions on the purchase of guns and ammunition and weakened oversight of environmental crime in the Amazon rainforest, which critics say caused the biome’s worst deforestation in 15 years and a surge of man-made fires.

The steep rise in police violence has been celebrated by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has pushed for laws that would provide immunity for officers who commit homicide in the line of duty.

Oct. 1, 2022


He stresses his opposition to legalized abortion and drugs, while warning that Lula’s return would produce the sort of leftist authoritarianism seen elsewhere in Latin America, persecution of churches, sexual education in public schools and the proliferation of so-called gender ideology.

Recently, Bolsonaro has given government funds to poorer Brazilians, who traditionally have been inclined to vote for Lula’s Worker’s Party. The Brazil Aid welfare program created during the COVID-19 pandemic was generous relative to other nations and a lifeline for many Brazilians. Recently, it was beefed up and extended through year‘s end, and Bolsonaro has said it will continue into 2023.

Other measures include a subsidy for cooking gas, assistance for truck and taxi drivers and refinancing of debts.

What about Lula?

Lula has focused on his prior terms, during which commodities exports surged and tens of millions of Brazilians joined the middle class. He has promised the poor — battered by economic distress for the better part of a decade — that they will again be able to afford three square meals a day and even weekend barbecues.

Ten months before the next presidential election, Brazil is more polarized than at any point in recent memory.

Dec. 21, 2021

But he has been vague on how he would ensure return of those halcyon days. Like Bolsonaro, he promises to extend Brazil Aid welfare into 2023, without explaining how it will be financed. He has said the state will once again assume a prominent role in economic development.

Faced with Bolsonaro’s attempts to lump him in with leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, Lula has declined to denounce their autocratic practices, instead saying other nations’ sovereignties must be respected, while also highlighting the fact he implemented no such policies during his presidency. In April, he said women should have the right to an abortion and then backtracked amid outcry, saying he is personally opposed.

A corruption conviction in 2018 barred him from that year’s presidential race and allowed Bolsonaro to cruise to victory. But the Supreme Court in 2021 annulled his convictions, ruling that the presiding judge had been biased and colluded with prosecutors. That enabled his run this year.

What happens after the vote in Brazil?

Many political analysts have expressed concern that Bolsonaro has laid the groundwork to reject election results if he loses and will attempt to cling to power — much like former President Trump, whom he admires. Such alarm largely stems from the president’s insistence that Brazil’s electronic voting machines are prone to fraud, though he has never presented evidence for his claims.