Brazil on tenterhooks in Bolsonaro, Lula election showdown

Brazil's former President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stands next to his wife Rosangela da Silva, on the day of Brazil's presidential election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 2, 2022Reuters

Brazilians will vote Sunday in a white-knuckle presidential race, choosing between wildly different visions of their future offered by incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and his rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula, a charismatic former president tainted by graft charges, narrowly won a first-round election and enters the finale the slight favourite with 52 per cent of voter support, according to a final poll from the Datafolha institute on Saturday.

However, Bolsonaro, who scored 48 per cent in the poll, performed better than expected last time around and many pundits see the election as too close to call.

“This is going to be a messy election... It’s much closer than anyone thought,” Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly told AFP.

The electoral showdown caps months of mud-slinging and personal attacks between the two men in a dirty campaign plagued by disinformation that has deeply polarized the nation of 215 million people.

Lula has called Bolsonaro a “cannibal,” “pedophile,” and “little dictator.” In turn, he has repeatedly been derided as a “thief” and accused of making a pact with Satan.

Both candidates have their die-hard supporters, but many will merely vote for the candidate they detest least—or spoil their ballots.

Democracy, Amazon at stake

Exhausted, and with nerves frayed after a bitterly divisive campaign, Brazilians are voting for two wildly different visions for their country, with everything at stake.

The election has global ramifications: Conservationists believe the result will seal the fate of the stricken Amazon rainforest, pushed to the brink by fires and deforestation under Bolsonaro.

However, for Brazilians, issues of poverty, hunger, corruption and traditional values are top of mind.

An editorial in the Nature magazine this week slammed Bolsonaro’s “eye-popping” record as “disastrous for science, the environment, the people of Brazil - and the world.”

Despite the clamor from abroad, the Amazon was only briefly touched upon in debates.

Lula, Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, has told voters the election is a choice between “democracy and barbarism, between peace and war.”

He with most votes, wins

One of the main questions hanging over the poll has been if Bolsonaro—often dubbed the “Tropical Trump”—will accept a loss, after saying the very voting system that brought him to power was riddled with fraud.

On Friday night he pledged to respect the election, saying “whoever gets the most votes, wins,” though possible accusations of rigging and a backlash from his voters loom over the poll.

Bolsonaro came under fire for his disastrous handling of the Covid pandemic, which left more than 680,000 dead, as well as his vitriol and disdain for political correctness.

However in recent months, falling unemployment figures, slowing inflation and a faster-than-expected economic recovery from the pandemic have given him a boost.

His core supporters—the business sector, anti-corruption voters and the powerful “Bibles, bullets and beef” coalition—love his gloves-off style and focus on conservative values.

The comeback kid

Lula was the country’s most popular president when he left office, helping to lift millions out of poverty with his social welfare programs.

But he then became mired in a massive corruption scandal and was jailed for 18 months before his convictions were thrown out last year. The Supreme Court found the lead judge was biased, but Lula was not exonerated.

A victory would prove a spectacular comeback, however he faces being weakened by a hostile Congress dominated by Bolsonaro lawmakers and allies.

“It is not just the next four years which are at stake,” read an editorial in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper Saturday.

“It is the almost four years of democracy in Brazil, a model anywhere in the world” which is “under threat” from Bolsonaro. However, the paper notes that Lula is also “tainted” by corruption.

Polls open at 8:00am (1100GMT) local time for 156 million registered voters and will close at 17:00pm (2000GMT). The result of the electronic vote is expected in a matter of hours.