Two political heavyweights vying to become Brazil’s next president locked horns in the final televised debate ahead of a major election with far-reaching implications for the Amazon rainforest, the global climate emergency and the future of one of the world’s largest democracies .
Former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro face off in Rio de Janeiro in the studio of Brazil’s largest broadcaster, on the eve of election votes, with Lula smiting A slim but not unassailable lead.
In the testy encounter, Lula accused Bolsonaro of mishandling the Covid-19 outbreak that has killed nearly 700,000 Brazilians, arming organised crime by relaxing gun laws and damaging the Amazon and Brazil’s international reputation. “Brazil is more isolated than Cuba… We have become pariahs,” said the 77-year-old leftist, denouncing Bolsonaro’s “crazy behavior”.
Bolsonaro, visibly nervous and having repeatedly stumbled on stage, has repeatedly called Lula a liar and highlighted corruption scandals that tainted the 14-year-old former president’s Workers’ Party (PT) in power from 2003 to 2016. year. “Lula, you’re a liar,” Bolsonaro said angrily. “Your government is a champion of corruption.”
“He’s a monophonic samba,” Lula shot back, citing one of bossa nova legend Tom Jobin’s most famous songs.
In his closing remarks, Bolsonaro was baffled and announced that, if God forbid, he would be re-elected to Brazil’s Congress, where he served for nearly 30 years before reinventing himself before being elected president in 2018 For anti-establishment outsiders.
This year’s election – widely regarded as the most important since Brazil’s 21-year dictatorship ended in 1985 – has divided Latin America’s most populous country, with about half of voters rejecting Bolsonaro and almost Just as many voters rejected Lula.
Lula voters see Bolsonaro as an incompetent dictator who has destroyed the environment and Brazil’s place in the world, screwed up its response to the coronavirus and divided society with his radical, hate-filled rhetoric. Bolsonaro’s supporters see Lula as a moderate two-term president who, from 2003 to 2010, was a dishonest “communist” threat who joined forces with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Dealing with left-wing authoritarians such as Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega is a mockery of his claim to be fighting for democracy.
On Friday, Bolsonaro’s main international ally, Donald Trump, stepped into the debate, urging Brazilians to reject Lula, “a radical left-wing lunatic who will quickly destroy your country”.
Lula’s supporters fear that if Bolsonaro – a former army captain who worships the dictatorship, hints he will challenge what he sees as an “abnormal” result – it could be the case when he loses sparked Trump-style turmoil. Those concerns intensified last week after one of Bolsonaro’s sons used unsubstantiated electoral foul allegations to claim his father was the victim of “the greatest electoral fraud in history” — a parallel with Trump The rhetoric after losing to Joe Biden in the 2020 US election was nearly identical.
During Friday’s debate, Bolsonaro appeared committed to respecting the result. “The person with the most votes wins,” he said.
Whichever side prevails, tens of millions of citizens could be overwhelmed. “I’ll be moving to Finland the next day,” said Bolsonaro activist and evangelical pastor Dhennis Wheberth, whose movement remains absolutely loyal to the president if Lula wins.
Henrique Vieira, a progressive church leader who supports Lula, said re-elected Bolsonaro would give him a blank check to persecute left-wing opponents and possibly even try to shut down Congress.
“I believe Bolsonaro’s re-election could be a fatal blow to Brazilian democracy…he is a fascist and an authoritarian,” warned Vieira, who was recently elected as a member of parliament for the left-wing Socialist and Liberal Party (PSL). .
“Beatening Bolsonaro and electing Lula is a historic task,” said Vieira, who has spent recent weeks trying to deconstruct Bolsonaro’s image as a “righteous” Christian, taking advantage of street protests and social media videos called him “the antichrist”.
However, Lula’s allies have expressed cautious optimism in recent days, with opinion polls showing his lead over Bolsonaro has grown to around 6 percent.
“I am hopeful and certain that we will win, but also anxious. This is one of the most important elections in Brazil’s history,” said Christie, a lawmaker from the Lula party in Minas Gerais, one of the country’s main swing states. Cristiano Silveira said.
Bolsonaro’s supporters, 67, insist they will win, noting that first-round polls underestimated his approval ratings. Lula won the Oct. 2 vote with 48.4 percent of the vote, but Bolsonaro fared much better than expected, with 43.2 percent of the vote instead of the 36 or 37 percent predicted.
Rio-based political analyst Thomas Traumann predicts the result will be more tense than the 2014 election, when PT candidate Dilma Rousseff voted 51.6% to 48.4% The edge beat her opponent, Aécio Neves, by 3.45 million votes. Neves’ party was controversial – but unsuccessful – questioning the outcome.
Trauman said he believes Bolsonaro’s campaign has been hit by reports that his finance secretary, Paulo Guedes, is considering a minimum wage freeze and a stinging of federal police by one of the president’s militant allies Damage from grenade and gun attacks. “[But] It will be very close. It’s too close,” he added, pointing to the public’s deep-seated hostility to the PT and the Bolsonaro government’s spending spree aimed at attracting poorer voters through welfare payments. A Reuters analysis found that his government promised Invest 273 billion reais (£44.4 billion) ahead of the election.
“I think it’s going to be 51%-49%,” Trauman joked. “I just can’t say for whom.”
Outside the TV studios where Lula and Bolsonaro clashed, there was no sign that the gulf between their supporters was closing.
Claudia Nunes, a 50-year-old physiotherapist who is part of a small group of people who support Bolsonaro, said she believed her candidate would win. “Our flag will never be saved,” she declared. “We hate Lula…he’s a liar and a scumbag.”
Across the street, 37-year-old PT activist Thulio Siviero said: “We feel very anxious. We have our hearts in our hands. But we are confident of victory.”
Nunes, wearing the bright yellow football shirt that has become a symbol of Bolsonaro’s far-right nationalist movement, is not convinced. “Bolsonaro will win,” she claimed. “Only by manipulation will Lula win.”