Brazil holds historic elections with Lula against Bolsonaro

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The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political enemy, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. There are nine other candidates, but their support has nothing to do with that of Bolsonaro and da Silva.

Recent opinion polls have given da Silva a sizable lead, with the latest Datafolha survey released on Saturday showing a 50% to 36% advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. He surveyed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of two percentage points.

Agatha de Carvalho, 24, arrived at her local polling station in Rio de Janeiro’s working-class Rocinha neighborhood shortly before it opened, hoping to vote before work, but found that 100 other people were already lined up. She said she would vote for da Silva and called Bolsonaro “awful”.

“A lot of people died because of him during the pandemic. If he hadn’t done some of the things he did, some of those deaths could have been prevented,” she said.

Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by inflammatory rhetoric, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a dedicated base by upholding traditional family values, pushing back against political correctness and portraying himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that undermine individual freedoms and produce economic turmoil.

Luiz Garcez, 49, in the southern city of Curitiba, said Bolsonaro’s presidency was “among the best in history” because “he built and helped the country a lot”.

A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher social benefits. Like many of its Latin American neighbors struggling with high inflation and large numbers of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a political shift to the left.

Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Gabriel Boric in Chile and Pedro Castillo in Peru are among the left-wing leaders in the region who have recently taken power.

Da Silva could win in the first round, without needing a second round on October 30, if he gets more than 50% of the valid votes, which excludes invalid and blank ballots. Brazil has over 150 million eligible voters and voting is compulsory, but abstention rates can be as high as 20%.

An outright victory for da Silva would highlight Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count. He has repeatedly questioned the reliability not only of opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he laid the groundwork for dismissing the results.

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the election authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as September 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “wrong.”

Both frontrunners have key support bases: evangelicals and white men for Bolsonaro, and women, minorities and the poor for da Silva.

Da Silva, 76, was once a steelworker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with establishing an extensive social welfare program during his tenure from 2003 to 2010 that helped bring in tens of millions of people in the middle class.

But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in sweeping corruption scandals that have entangled politicians and business leaders.

Da Silva’s own convictions for bribery and money laundering led to 19 months in prison, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he was leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later overturned da Silva’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Marialva Santos Pereira, 47, said she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.

“I didn’t like the scandals of his first administration, I never voted for the Workers’ Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unfairly imprisoned and because Bolsonaro is a so bad president that it makes everyone better.” ‘

Speaking after voting in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing hub of Sao Paulo state where he was a labor leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and unable to vote.

“I want to try to get the country back to normality, to try to get this country to take care of its people again,” he told reporters.

Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the military. He turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise military pay. During his seven terms as a fringe legislator in the lower house of Congress, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two decades of military dictatorship.

His overtures to the armed forces raised fears that his possible rejection of the election results would be backed by senior brass.

Traditionally, the military’s involvement in elections has been limited to transporting voting machines to remote communities and enhancing security in violent areas. But this year, Bolsonaro has suggested the military conduct a parallel ballot count.

Although that did not materialize, the Defense Ministry said it would verify the results at more than 380 polling stations across Brazil. Any citizen or entity can do the same, by consulting a vote count available in each office after the close of the poll and online.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts from right-wing foreign politicians, including former US President Donald Trump, who called on Brazilians to vote for him. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for the strengthening of bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also congratulated him.

After casting his vote on Sunday morning, wearing a T-shirt with the green and yellow colors of the Brazilian flag, Bolsonaro told reporters that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. Asked about compliance with the results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

Since voting is conducted electronically, preliminary results are usually released within minutes, with the final result available hours later. This year, all polling stations will close at 5:00 p.m. Brasilia time (4:00 p.m. EDT; 2000 GMT).

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