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Brazilians vote Sunday in the first round of the country's most polarizing presidential and parliamentary elections in decades. Leftist Luiz Inscio Lula da Silva stands a good chance of defeating rightist candidate Jair Bolsonaro, Reuters reported.

Most polls have shown Lula with a solid lead for months, but Bolsonaro has signaled that he may refuse to concede defeat, heightening fears of an institutional crisis or post-election violence.

Before the vote, a message was projected on the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro that read: Peace in Elections.

According to most opinion polls, Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, gains 10 to 15 percentage points. If he gets more than 50 percent of the valid votes, which according to several polls is achievable, he will have won an uncontested victory and will not run for a second round of voting.

The winner could be announced within hours after the polls close at 5:00 p.m. Brasilia time.

If no candidate gets more than half of the votes, not counting blank and spoiled ballots, the two candidates will advance to a runoff on Oct. 30, extending a tense campaign season.

Bolsonaro has threatened to challenge the results of the vote, bringing charges of fraud, accusing the electoral authorities of conspiring against him and suggesting that the military conduct a parallel vote count, which they have refused to do.

Lula's victory on Sunday could reduce the likelihood of a tumultuous transition. Bolsonaro's critics say another month of his attacks on the democratic process could lead to social unrest similar to the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Bolsonaro said he would respect the results of the election if the vote was clean and transparent without defining any criteria.

Although Lula is leading in the presidential race, the conservative coalition supporting Bolsonaro is expected to hold a majority in both houses of Congress. This could create difficulties for the left in governing a country with rising hunger, high unemployment, and uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, Brazilians also vote for all 513 members of the lower house of Congress, a third of the 81 members of the Senate, as well as governors and state legislatures.

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