Jair Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro Reuters

Brazil's top two presidential candidates appear to be headed for a runoff after vote counting showed them neck-and-neck on Sunday night, according to The Associated Press.

The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political nemesis, leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. There are nine other candidates, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva.

With 91.6% of votes counted on Sunday night, da Silva had 47.3%, ahead of Bolsonaro with 44.2%, according to the electoral authority.

It appears increasingly likely neither of the top two candidates will receive more than 50% of the votes, as required by Brazilian law to win in the first round. The second round of voting will be scheduled for October 30.

Recent opinion polls had given da Silva a commanding lead - the last Datafolha survey published Saturday found a 50% to 36% advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

The election wound up being far tighter than anticipated, both in the presidential contest and those for governorships and congressional seats.

Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil's southeast region, which includes populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states.

Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the “Trump of Brazil”, has come under fire for his incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

However, he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.

Da Silva, 76, previously served as Brazil’s President from 2003 to 2010. He is widely remembered for his administration´s involvement in vast corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives.

Da Silva's own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later annulled da Silva’s convictions on grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors, noted AP.