The country shifted to the left in 2003 with the presidential victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - known as Lula - and his Workers' Party went on to govern for 13 years.
Jair Bolsonaro, whose last-minute surge nearly gave him an electoral stunner, had 46pc compared to 29pc for former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, according to figures from Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal with 99.9pc of the vote counted. The 55-year-old mayor of São Paulo and former education minister has worked to appeal to working-class Brazilians who remember Lula's government as a boon to social programs and living standards. Saturday evening's polls had Jair Bolsonaro winning with between 40 and 41 percent of votes, with Fernando Haddad on 25 percent.
"Brazil is now surfing the wave of global conservatism, an anti-globalist movement all across the world", said Guilherme Casarões, a comparative politics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo.
The Workers' Party was at the centre of that investigation, and it has struggled to stage a comeback with Mr Haddad. "He is a moderate, but the big question is whether the party allows him to project that moderate image", Prof.
A candidate needs 50% or more to win the elections outright.
Surveys suggest Bolsonaro currently has a very slight edge for that run-off but the outcome is too close to call as Haddad will likely now pick up substantial support from the other beaten candidates. But Mr. Haddad mentioned Mr. da Silva only once in his subsequent interview.
He was unable to campaign in person or participate in debates as he underwent surgeries during a three-week hospital stay - instead he used social media to communicate with the electorate. "I think Jair Bolsonaro simply wants to stop these years of corruption".
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His promises to give police freer rein, his criticism of the social movements and reforms that have attempted to make Brazil more inclusive and equal, and his frequent praise for Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship have raised concerns that a Bolsonaro government will erode democratic values and rule with an authoritarian hand.
Bolsonaro often uses crime as a lens through which to sketch out a broad indictment of the left: What he calls its coddling policies toward the poor, marginalized and criminal and its push to protect the rights of minorities at what he says is the expense of the majority.
That changed when Bolsonaro arrived in March - making it his ninth party affiliation. He said he would "consider the privatization of state companies in all sectors", because the sales will both boost competitiveness and "nullify issues of corruption in state owned companies".
Brazilian stocks soared on Monday following the first round of presidential elections in the country.
Supporters of presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro celebrate Sunday's election numbers. The evangelical caucus picked up many seats, as did the agro-industry lobby, which wants to shut down Brazil's already badly weakened environmental protection agency, and reduce or cancel Indigenous land designations, opening much more of the Amazon rain forest to logging and mining. "Even if Haddad wins, it is clear that he would have to take steps towards the center to do so".
During Brazil's last election, in 2014, the PSL won one seat in the lower house.