By Brian Ellsworth and Lisandra Paraguassu
SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated President Jair Bolsonaro in a runoff election on Sunday that marked a stunning comeback for the leftist former president and the end of Brazil's most right-wing government in decades.
Brazil's Supreme Electoral Court declared Lula the next president, with 50.9% of votes versus 49.1% for Bolsonaro. The 77-year-old Lula's inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 1.
The vote was a rebuke for the fiery far-right populism of Bolsonaro, who emerged from the back benches of Congress to forge a novel conservative coalition but lost support as Brazil ran up one of the worst death tolls of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bolsonaro remained silent on Sunday night after the results were announced and some of his allies publicly acknowledged his defeat, defying expectations that he might immediately challenge the narrow result after making baseless claims of fraud in previous elections.
Bolsonaro did not make a call to Lula, according to campaign advisers.
Lula said in a speech he would unite a divided country and ensure that Brazilians "put down arms that never should have been taken up," while inviting international cooperation to preserve the Amazon rainforest and make global trade more fair.
"I will govern for 215 million Brazilians, and not just for those who voted for me," Lula said at his campaign headquarters. "There are not two Brazils. We are one country, one people, one great nation."
Lula arrived at a rally in Sao Paulo shortly after 8:00 p.m. (1100 GMT), waving from the sunroof of a car. Ecstatic supporters near Paulista Avenue waited for him, chanting slogans and drinking champagne.
Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin and campaign aides jumped up and down chanting, "It's time Jair, it's time to leave already," in a video circulating on social media.
Last year, Bolsonaro, 67, openly discussed refusing to accept the results of the vote.
A senior Bolsonaro campaign aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not make a speech on Sunday. The Bolsonaro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
One close Bolsonaro ally, lawmaker Carla Zambelli, in an apparent nod to Lula's victory wrote on Twitter, "I PROMISE you, I will be the greatest opposition that Lula has ever imagined."
Electoral authorities are bracing for him to dispute the outcome, sources told Reuters, and made security preparations in case his supporters stage protests.
U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated Lula for winning "free, fair and credible elections," joining a chorus of compliments from European and Latin American leaders.
His victory consolidates a new "pink tide" in Latin America, after landmark leftist victories in Colombia and Chile's elections, echoing a regional political shift two decades ago that introduced Lula to the world stage.
Lula has vowed a return to state-driven economic growth and social policies that helped lift millions out of poverty when he was previously president from 2003 to 2010. He also promises to combat destruction of the Amazon rainforest, now at a 15-year high, and make Brazil a leader in global climate talks.
"These were four years of hatred, of negation of science," Ana Valeria Doria, 60, a doctor in Rio de Janeiro who celebrated with a drink. "It won't be easy for Lula to manage the division in this country. But for now it's pure happiness."
A former union leader born into poverty, Lula organized strikes against Brazil's military government in the 1970s. His two-term presidency was marked by a commodity-driven economic boom and he left office with record popularity.
However, his Workers Party was later tarred by a deep recession and a record-breaking corruption scandal that jailed him for 19 months on bribery convictions, which were overturned by the Supreme Court last year.
In his third term, Lula will confront a sluggish economy, tighter budget constraints and a more hostile legislature.
Bolsonaro's allies form the largest bloc in Congress after this month's general election and won the races for governor in Brazil's three most economically powerful states, highlighting the enduring strength of his conservative coalition.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Lisandra Paraguassu in Sao Paulo, Anthony Boadle and Ricardo Brito in Brasilia, Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Brad Haynes and Grant McCool)