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Lula seeks unity after Brazil election win as Bolsonaro remains silent

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pledged to govern for all Brazilians after winning a slim victory in a bitterly fought presidential election — but more than 18 hours after the official result, defeated President Jair Bolsonaro had still not conceded.

Financial markets traded cautiously on Monday afternoon, with stocks marginally lower and the real currency slightly up against the dollar, as investors waited for clearer signals from veteran leftist Lula on economic policy and from Bolsonaro on his political intentions.

The mercurial former army captain spent election night in silence in Brasília after losing by just 1.8 percentage points to his rival, with news reports saying he had refused to receive even close aides. The social media accounts of the president and his three politician sons were uncharacteristically silent on Monday morning.

“We need to see what Bolsonaro is going to do. We need the president to say something,” said Andre Perfeito of brokerage Necton.

Sunday’s result marks a dramatic comeback for Lula, who was president for two terms between 2003 and 2010 but then subsequently accused of corruption. He served time in prison before his convictions were annulled.

“From January 2023, I will govern for 215mn Brazilians, not just those who voted for me. There are not two Brazils. We are one people, one country, one great nation,” the 77-year-old said in a victory speech before a crowd in São Paulo that focused on democracy and healing the wounds of the campaign.

“We no longer want to fight. We’re tired of seeing the other as the enemy,” he added.

Lula’s win followed a campaign marred by an avalanche of fake news and mudslinging, prompting frequent interventions from the supreme court and top electoral authority and sparking fears of post-electoral conflict.

In the hours after Bolsonaro’s defeat, truckers who supported him blocked highways in 11 of Brazil’s 26 states in protest but the incidents appeared isolated and the number of protests reduced during the morning. There was no immediate sign of a co-ordinated attempt to challenge the official election verdict.

Arthur Lira, speaker of the lower house of Congress and one of the few Bolsonaro allies to comment publicly, said it was “time to disarm the passions and reach out to opponents”.

Lula’s victory was warmly received by global leaders, who will welcome Brazil’s return to multilateralism after the diplomatic isolation of the Bolsonaro years.

Presidents Joe Biden of the US and Emmanuel Macron of France were among the first to congratulate Lula. Biden highlighted that the elections were “free, fair and credible”, while Macron said Lula’s victory “opens a new page in the history of Brazil”. Vladimir Putin of Russia, a major fertiliser supplier to Brazil, also sent his congratulations.

Lula’s win will bring to an end four years of hard-right populism and nationalism under Bolsonaro. It is the latest in a string of races that have turfed out incumbents across Latin America, returning mainly leftwing leaders.

The victory has also raised hopes of an end to illegal deforestation in the Amazon. Lula has pledged to halt the practice following a surge in destruction of the earth’s largest rainforest under Bolsonaro.

“This is the most important election I’ve taken part in,” said Brenda Santos Cunha, a publicist who was celebrating in central São Paulo. “The last few years have been barbaric, it’s been maddening. I don’t expect Lula’s government to be revolutionary, but I hope it will provide an ounce of hope.”

Lula won 50.9 per cent of the vote versus 49.1 for Bolsonaro after edging ahead during a cliffhanger three-hour count. He faces huge challenges.

Brazil’s economy is set to slow sharply next year and government finances have been strained by a pre-election spending splurge from Bolsonaro, who succeeded in circumventing a constitutional cap on public spending to try to win re-election.

Global economic headwinds and weaker growth in China, Brazil’s biggest trading partner, will complicate Lula’s challenges in delivering on ambitious promises to boost spending on welfare, health and education. Investors have raised concerns about his refusal so far to commit to firm targets on budget discipline or to detail how he would fund his pledges.

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