Brazilian presidential election, 1989

Brazilian presidential election, 1989
15 November 1989

Candidate Fernando Collor de Mello Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Party PRN PT
Home state Alagoas Pernambuco / São Paulo
Running mate Itamar Franco José Paulo Bisol
Popular vote 35,085,457 31,070,734
Percentage 53.0% 47.0%

President before election

José Sarney

Elected President

Fernando Collor de Mello

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Presidential elections were held in Brazil in 1989. They were the first direct presidential elections since 1960, the first to be held using the two-round system and the first to take place under the 1988 constitution.

In the first round, Fernando Collor de Mello led the field, but came up well short of the required majority. After receiving 453,800 (0.6% of the total votes) more votes than Leonel Brizola from the Democratic Labour Party, a symbol of the old left-wing, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the Workers' Party proceeded to the second round against Collor. Collor won the second round by a margin of 6%, making them the closest presidential elections in Brazilian history until 2014.

Historical context

On January 15, 1985, Tancredo Neves won the electoral college election for president, putting an end to the 21-year-old military dictatorship. However, Neves died and José Sarney, the Vice-President-elect, took office. Sarney was seen with suspicion by the civilian population, since he had been a member of the military regime's official party, the National Renewal Alliance/Democratic Social Party. There were some questioning of the legitimacy of Sarney's appointment since Neves had died as President-elect without ever taking office. The support of General Leônidas Pires Gonçalves, appointed by Neves as Minister of the Army, was decisive for Sarney taking office, drawing even more suspicion.

Nevertheless, as promised by Neves, Sarney's government was responsible for the gradual redemocratization of the country. In 1986, he called an election to form the National Constituent Assembly, which promulgated a new Constitution on November 5, 1988. The new document claimed for direct elections for President, Governors and Deputies in the following year. Also during Sarney's term as president, formerly clandestine parties such as the Brazilian Communist Party and the Brazilian Socialist Party were legalized. Sarney also established the Mercosul. Aside from considerable progress towards democracy, Sarney's government is remembered for employing old members of the regime. Actress and Deputy Bete Mendes claimed that one of her torturers from the DOI-CODI, Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, was a military attaché in the Brazilian Embassy in Uruguay at the time .

The election

The 1989 elections were the first in almost 30 years in which eligible Brazilian citizens were able to directly vote for President. The political parties were relatively new but managed to actively mobilise the population five years after massive demonstrations for direct elections had helped to put an end to the military regime.

Sarney was barred from a full term. In Brazil, when a vice president serves part of a president's term, it counts as a full term; at the time the Brazilian constitution barred a president from immediate reelection. Twenty-two presidential candidatures were launched, establishing a record number of candidates in a single presidential election in Brazil. Since no candidate managed to obtain the majority of valid votes (excluding blank and void votes), a second round was held, as mandated by the new electoral law. The first round took place on November 15, 1989, the same date of the Brazilian Republic's 100th anniversary. The second round was held on December 17 of the same year, disputed by the two candidates with higher number of votes in the first round: Fernando Collor de Mello of the now-defunct National Reconstruction Party and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party.

The level of enthusiasm in Lula's campaign was huge, with big rallies around the country and several artists participating in the music video for the famous jingle "Lula Lá", aired during his free television canvass which became a classic tune of Brazilian politics. Other artists, like actress Marília Pêra, preferred to support Collor and sustain his discourse, stating that they feared what could happen in Brazil if the leftist union leader Lula was victorious.

The candidates discourse and biased coverage

During the second round, Rede Globo aired a debate between Lula and Collor. In the broadcast of Jornal Nacional on the following day, Globo aired an edited version of the debate highlighting Collor's best moments and Lula's worst ones. This broadcast was seen by many as bias by Globo in favor of Collor, of whom Globo CEO Roberto Marinho was a friend. This event was explored on Channel 4's documentary Beyond Citizen Kane, where the head of journalism of Globo at the time, Armando Nogueira, explained how his edit of the debate shown at the lunchtime news program was altered to favor Collor on the evening news. After complaining to Marinho about the biased edit he was dismissed from the company.

Some people attribute Collor's victory to this particular event, although other media coverage have influenced voters, such as an article at Jornal do Brasil accusing Lula of having a bastard daughter. Later, Collor's campaign contacted Lula's ex-girlfriend and mother of the child in question to reveal that Lula asked her to perform an abortion. Many, however, argue that Lula was inexperienced and naïve with politics, which led to a high level of enthusiasm from his supporters but some difficulty in passing his message across to many potential voters. Despite being a charismatic left wing union leader running for the presidency of a country with a rather small middle class, he failed to attract the majority of the votes from the poor - who would, later on, form the basis of his electorate - who voted predominantly for the candidate most associated with the old economic elite of the poor Northeastern region. As it was, Lula support was bigger among intellectuals, catholic activists, skilled workers and the educated middle class of the South and Southeast regions, despite the fact that he was himself originally a poor immigrant from the Northeast.

Collor, on the other hand, argued that Lula would destroy Brazil's already fragile economy at the time, harming the poor people he claimed to champion. At the same time, Collor appealed to his young age and looks to assert that he was a new type of politician, apart from the old "sons of the dictatorship" as well as the newer economic and political elites who had supported Sarney's government and the Plano Cruzado economic program. His crusade against corruption and patrimonialism gained him a lot of support, which quickly vanished as his involvement with a corruption scandal led to an impeachment midway through his presidency.


Collor received the most votes in most states, with Lula the leading candidate in the Federal District and Brizola in Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. In the second round, Lula had the largest vote share in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco, along with the Federal District, whilst Collor won the most votes in each of the other states.[1]

Candidate Party First round Second round
Votes % Votes %
Fernando Collor de MelloNational Reconstruction Party20,607,93630.535,085,45753.0
Luiz Inácio Lula da SilvaWorkers' Party11,619,81617.231,070,73447.0
Leonel BrizolaDemocratic Labour Party11,166,01616.5
Mário CovasBrazilian Social Democracy Party7,786,93911.5
Paulo Salim MalufDemocratic Social Party5,986,0128.9
Guilherme Afif DomingosLiberal Party3,271,9864.8
Ulysses GuimarãesBrazilian Democratic Movement Party3,204,8534.7
Roberto FreireBrazilian Communist Party768,8031.1
Aureliano ChavesLiberal Front Party600,7300.9
Ronaldo CaiadoSocial Democratic Party488,8720.7
Affonso Camargo NetoBrazilian Labour Party379,2620.6
Enéas Ferreira CarneiroParty of the Reconstruction of the National Order1,732,1122.6
José Alcides Marronzinho de OliveiraSocial Progressive Party
Paulo GontijoProgressive Party
Zamir José TeixeiraNational Communitarian Party
Lívia Maria de AbreuNationalist Party
Eudes Oliveira MattarLiberal Progressive Party
Fernando GabeiraGreen Party
Celso BrantParty of National Mobilization
Antônio dos Santos PedreiraProgressive Party
Manoel de Oliveira HortaChristian Democratic Party
Invalid/blank votes4,664,0714,094,003
Registered voters/turnout82,056,22688.182,056,22685.6
Source: Nohlen[2]


  1. Brazil. Presidential Election 1989 Electoral Geography
  2. Dieter Nohlen (2005) Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume II, p233 ISBN 978-0-19-928358-3

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