Brazil voted for a new president on Sunday in the final round of a polarizing election that has been hailed as one of the most important in the country’s democratic history.
The choice is between two starkly different candidates – former left-wing president Luz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, and far-right president Jair Bolsonaro – as the country grapples with high inflation, limited growth and growing poverty.
Anger has overshadowed the poll as both men have used their considerable power, online and off, to attack each other. Clashes among their supporters have left many voters fearful of what is yet to come.
It could be a tight race. Neither won more than 50% in the first round of voting earlier this month, forcing the two main candidates into this Sunday’s vote.
Lula served two terms as president, from 2003 to 2006 and from 2007 to 2011, where he led the country through a commodities boom, helped fund massive social welfare programs and lifted millions out of poverty.
The charismatic politician is known for his dramatic backstory: he didn’t learn to read until age 10, dropped out of school after the fifth grade to work full-time, and led labor strikes challenging the military regime in the 1970s. He founded the Workers’ Party (PT), which became the main left-wing political force in Brazil.
Lula left office with 90% approval; however, Brazil’s record-smearing largest corruption investigation, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” brought charges against hundreds of politicians and businessmen across Latin America. He was convicted of corruption and money laundering in 2017, but a court overturned his conviction in March 2021, clearing the way for his political rebound “in a plot worthy of one of Brazil’s beloved soap operas,” senior adviser Bruna Santos said. 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 marginal figure in politics for a long time, before emerging in the mid-2010s as the figurehead of a more radical right-wing movement that saw the PT as its main enemy.
He ran for president with the conservative Liberal Party in 2018, campaigning as a political outsider and anti-corruption candidate and earning the nickname ‘Trump of the Tropics’. A divisive figure, Bolsonaro has become known for his bombastic statements and conservative agenda, which is supported by the country’s leading evangelical leaders.
But poverty has grown during his tenure as president, and his popularity has taken a hit over his handling of the pandemic, which he dismissed as a “little flu” before the virus killed more than 680,000 people in the country.
Bolsonaro’s government has become known for its ruthless exploitation of Amazonian land, with record deforestation figures. Environmentalists have warned that the future of the jungle may be at stake in these elections.
It’s a close race for two acquaintances who take very different paths to prosperity.
Bolsonaro’s campaign is a continuation of his conservative and pro-business agenda. Bolsonaro has promised to increase mining, privatize public companies and create more sustainable energy to lower energy prices. But he has also vowed to continue paying a monthly benefit of R$600 (about $110) to low-income households, known as Auxilio Brasil, without specifying how it will be paid.
Bolsonaro this month has accelerated the payment of financial aid, a move that critics have described as politically motivated. “In the run-up to the election, his government has made direct payments to working-class and poor voters — in a classic populist move,” Santos told CNN.
Bolsonaro’s conservative social message, which includes the promotion of political correctness and traditional gender roles, has effectively rallied his base of conservative Brazilian voters, he also said.
Analysts say Lula’s policy agenda has been light on details, largely focused on promises to improve the fortunes of Brazilians based on past achievements.
He wants to put the state back at the heart of economic policies and government spending, promising a new tax regime that will allow for greater public spending. He has vowed to end hunger in the country, which is back in Bolsonaro’s government. Lula also promises 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 in relation to the budget, it will not be easy.”
Lula will face a hostile congress if he becomes president. Congressional elections on October 3 gave Bolsonaro’s allies the most seats in both chambers: Bolsonaro’s right-wing Liberal Party increased its seats to 99 in the lower house, and parties allied with it now control half the chamber, Reuters reported.
“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 that 49% of respondents would vote for Lula and 45% would support Bolsonaro, a one percentage point gain from a poll conducted by the same institute a week ago.
But Bolsonaro fared better than expected in the first round of voting on October 2, denying Lula the outright majority predicted by polls. The first-round surge in polls suggests greater support for Bolsonaro’s populist conservatism, and analysts expect the margin in Sunday’s vote to be much narrower than expected.
There could be any number of other surprises. There have been fears of violence in these elections, as in recent months there have been several violent and sometimes deadly clashes between supporters of Bolsonaro and Lula. From the beginning of this year to the first round of voting, the US non-profit Armed Conflict Locations and Events Data Project (ACLED) recorded “36 cases of political violence involving party representatives and supporters across the country”, which suggests “even more”. tension and polarization than in the previous general elections.’
Critics also fear that Bolsonaro is laying the groundwork to fight the elections. While insisting that he will respect the results if they are “clean and transparent”, Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud, a totally unfounded accusation that he has compared to former US President Donald Trump’s false election statements. . There has been no fraud in Brazil’s electronic ballots since they began in 1996, and experts worry that the rhetoric will lead to outbreaks of violence if Lula wins.
“In these subsequent elections, our confidence in the strength of Brazil’s democratic institutions will be questioned,” Santos said.