Brazil votes for a new president on Sunday, in the last round of polarizing elections that have been described as the most important in the country’s democratic history.
The choice is between two starkly different candidates: former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, and far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, as the country struggles with high inflation, limited growth and growing poverty.
Growing anger has overshadowed the poll as both men have used their vast influence, on and off, to attack each other at every turn. Clashes between his supporters have left many voters fearful of what’s to come.
The race could be so close. Neither won more than 50% in a first-round vote earlier this month, forcing the two main candidates into a runoff this Sunday.
Lula da Silva served as president for two terms, from 2003 to 2006 and from 2007 to 2011, where he led the country through a commodity boom that helped fund large social welfare programs and lifted millions from of poverty
The charismatic politician is known for his dramatic history: he didn’t learn to read until age 10, dropped out of school after fifth grade to work full-time, and led labor strikes that challenged the military regime of the 1970s. He was a co-founder of the Workers’ Party (PT), which became Brazil’s main left-wing political force.
Lula da Silva left office with a 90% approval rating, a record broken by Brazil’s biggest corruption investigation, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” which led to charges against hundreds of politicians and businessmen high rank of Latin America. He was convicted of corruption and money laundering in 2017, but a court overturned his conviction in March 2021, paving the way for his political rebound “in a plot twist worthy of one of the beloved soap operas Brazilian women”, Bruna Santos, senior advisor. at the Wilson Institute’s Brazil Center, he told CNN.
His rival, Bolsonaro, is a former army captain who was a federal deputy for 27 years. Bolsonaro was considered a fringe figure in politics for much of that time before emerging in the mid-2010s as the figurehead of a more radical right-wing movement, which perceived the PT as its main enemy
He ran for president in 2018 with the conservative Liberal Party, campaigning as a political outsider and anti-corruption candidate, earning the nickname “Trump of the tropics.” A divisive figure, Bolsonaro has become known for his bombastic statements and conservative agenda, which has the support of important evangelical leaders in the country.
But poverty has grown during his time as president, and his popularity levels have had an impact on his handling of the pandemic, which he dismissed as the “little flu” before the virus killed more than 680,000 people in the country
Bolsonaro’s government has become known for its support for the ruthless exploitation of land in the Amazon, which has led to record deforestation figures. Environmentalists have warned that the future of the rainforest could be at stake in this election.
The race is tight for the two household names who take radically different paths to prosperity.
Bolsonaro’s campaign is a continuation of his conservative and pro-business agenda. Bolsonaro has pledged to increase mining, privatize public companies and generate more sustainable energy to lower energy prices. But it has also promised to continue paying a monthly benefit of R$600 (about US$110) to low-income households known as Auxilio Brasil, without clearly defining how it will be paid.
Bolsonaro accelerated those aid payments this month, a move seen by critics as politically motivated. “As the election approached, his government has made direct payments to working-class and poor voters, in a classic populist move,” Santos told CNN.
Bolsonaro’s socially conservative messaging, which includes railing against political correctness and promoting traditional gender roles, has effectively rallied his conservative Brazilian voter base, he also said.
Lula da Silva’s political agenda has been light on details, focusing largely on promises to improve the fortunes of Brazilians based on past achievements, analysts say.
He wants to put the state back at the center of economic policy and government spending, promising a new fiscal regime that will allow public spending to increase. He has promised to end hunger in the country, which has returned during Bolsonaro’s government. Lula da Silva also pledges to work to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation in the Amazon.
But Santos warns that he will face an uphill battle: “With a fragile fiscal scenario (in Brazil) and little power over the budget, it will not be easy.”
Lula da Silva faces a hostile Congress if he becomes president. Congressional elections on October 3 gave Bolsonaro’s allies the majority of seats in both houses: Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party increased its seats to 99 in the lower house, and parties allied with him they now control half the chamber, Reuters reports.
“Lula seems to ignore the necessary search for new engines of growth because the State cannot grow any more,” he said.
A Datafolha poll released last Wednesday showed 49% of respondents said they would vote for Lula da Silva and 45% would go for Bolsonaro, who won by one percentage point in a poll by the same institute a week ago.
But Bolsonaro fared better than expected in the first round on October 2, denying Lula da Silva the absolute majority that polls had predicted. The incumbent’s superior poll performance in the first round suggests broader support for Bolsonaro’s populist brand of conservatism, and analysts expect the margin in Sunday’s vote to be much narrower than expected.
There could be many other surprises. Fears of violence have dogged these elections, with several violent and sometimes fatal clashes between supporters of Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva in recent months. From the beginning of this year to the first round of voting, the US-based non-profit organization Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded “36 cases of political violence involving party representatives and supporters in the entire country,” suggesting “even greater. tensions and polarization than those recorded in previous general elections.”
Critics also fear that Bolsonaro has been laying the groundwork to stand for election. While he insists he will respect the results if they are “clean and transparent”, Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed that Brazil’s electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud, a completely unfounded allegation that has drawn comparisons to the former president’s false election claims of the United States, Donald Trump. . There has been no record of fraud in Brazil’s electronic ballots since they began in 1996, and experts worry the rhetoric could lead to outbreaks of violence if Lula da Silva wins.
“In these consequential elections, the confidence we have in the strength of Brazilian democratic institutions will be challenged,” Santos said.