The left-wing camp smiled arrogantly at what was perhaps the biggest coup by Jair Messias Bolsonaro (67) in the election campaign: two days before the presidential elections in Brazil, soccer star Neymar called on his compatriots among the several hundred million followers on social networks to vote for the right-wing populist incumbent.

This had two notable effects: Suddenly, Bolsonaro voters began to publicly acknowledge their intention to vote, which was mostly ostracized by the media. In addition, the Afro-Brazilian population was served in the comments that the Bolsonaro camp is by no means exclusive of racist comments. What black footballers like world champion Romario, Ronaldinho or Neymar, who was re-elected as parliamentarians on Sunday, sometimes have to read from white journalists and the left-wing electorate in the networks if they don’t speak out for Lula’s left-wing workers’ party PT is frightening. Lula’s management team is almost entirely white and male anyway.

Since Sunday evening everything seems to be open again in Brazil. The result is a minor disgrace for many survey institutes as well as for a large part of the international reporting on the election campaign, since the actual mood in the Brazilian population was completely misjudged.

Incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, with almost 43.3 percent, received significantly more votes than forecast, the favorite left-leaning challenger Lula da Silva (48.3 percent) suddenly has to fight for the victory that was believed to be certain. Both camps now have until the run-off election day on October 30 to mobilize their electorate, win new ones or lose them with serious mistakes.

Lula tried to reassure his followers: “It’s just an extension,” he said in the evening, promising that “the fight will go on until the final victory”.

There is also a lot at stake for Germany and Europe: Berlin and Brussels had put everything on the Lula card by stopping the ratification of the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, which was ready to be signed, in order to punish Bolsonaro for his Amazon deforestation policy. The Europeans now urgently need resource-rich South America because of the supply crisis resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The decisive factor will now be who the electorate of the losing candidates Simone Tebet (four percent), Ciro Gomes (three percent) and Sonja Thronicke and Felipe Avila (together one percent) will choose. At Tebet, Thronicke and Avila, Bolsonaro could be ahead.

The moderate left-wing politician Gomes was “extremely worried about the future of Brazil” at the prospect of two populist camps clashing and asked for “a few hours to think about it” for his position. A few days ago it was “Never Lula Again”.

Tebet wants to comment within 48 hours. Bolsonaro said in the evening for Tebet and Gomes, who could bring him the missing seven percent, “the doors are open to talk to each other”.

Why Bolsonaro is significantly more popular than conveyed in most international media and in the polls can be discussed in detail. The fact is that an incomplete picture is sometimes conveyed from Brazil in both the national and international media. The fact that the homicide rate fell to its lowest level since 2007 in 2021 is usually missing from the extensive reporting on police violence. The number of over 30 million people suffering from hunger in Brazil, as recently reported by media and institutes close to Lula, cannot be seriously checked. Bolsonaro’s Economics Minister Paulo Guedes publicly questioned this number as fake news.

There is evidence of current economic growth of 2.6 percent, important domestic tourism is back to pre-pandemic levels, and new shops are opening almost every day in the major cities. In the most populous state of São Paulo, the heart of the Brazilian economy, Bolsonaro is seven points ahead of Lula. Just a year ago, tens of thousands of Lula supporters or organizations close to them called for immediate action to be taken against high fuel and food prices. As soon as Bolsonaro had drastically reduced taxes, it was said that this was an election campaign gift, as was the crisis aid of around 120 euros a month for poor families.

And then there are the ever-growing arch-conservative evangelical churches, which are loyal to the anti-abortion and publicly fundamentally Christian Bolsonaro. This is an effective community of convenience: the evangelical churches provide the voters, Bolsonaro with the buzzwords fatherland, family, God and freedom the appropriate conservative ideology and tax breaks.

Realistically, Lula da Silva will still win the runoff. He only has to win a small part of the votes in addition to his base result of over 48 percent.

But the actual messages of the evening were different: “Bolsonarism” is much more firmly anchored in Brazilian society than the pollsters think. Numerous prominent allies won important offices and seats in parliament.

The daily Folha commented: “Maybe Lula will win, but Bolsonarism has already won.” The danger that the “Bolsonaristas” will not recognize the result of the Trump-style runoff, if there is a wafer-thin defeat, has been there since Sunday gone up. And that is perhaps the most dangerous message of the evening.