RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s two main presidential candidates squared off Sunday night in a highly polarized election that could determine whether the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the extreme right. incumbent in office for another four years.
The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political nemesis, leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. There are nine other candidates, but their support pales in comparison to that of Bolsonaro and da Silva.
With 63.4% of the votes counted, Bolsonaro had 45.8%, ahead of da Silva with 45.3%, according to the electoral authority. It is not yet clear if either candidate will be able to claim an outright victory. A possible second round is scheduled for October 1. 30
Recent opinion polls have given da Silva a commanding lead: the latest Datafolha poll released on Saturday found a 50% to 36% lead for da Silva among those who intended to vote. He interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of two percentage points.
Strongholds of the far-right leader, such as the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, had counted more than half of their votes as of 7:20 p.m. local time. The count in states where da Silva and his Workers Party fared better, such as northeastern Bahia and Ceará, was still in the low 20s.
But that didn’t fully explain how close the race was, according to Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoría. Bolsonaro was outperforming Brazil’s southeastern region, which includes the populous states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
“Polls didn’t capture that growth,” he said. “Now we have to see if the Workers’ Party recovers in the northeast, where the count is still behind.”
The Bolsonaro administration has been marked by an incendiary discourse, its testing of democratic institutions, its Widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the The worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years
but he has built a dedicated base defending conservative values, rejecting political correctness and presenting himself as protect the nation from leftist politics which it says infringes on personal liberties and produces economic turbulence.
Marley Melo, a 53-year-old merchant from the capital Brasilia, wore the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have chosen for the demonstrations. Melo said that he is voting once again for Bolsonaro, who met his expectations, and does not believe the polls show him trailing.
“Polls can be manipulated. They all belong to companies with interests,” she said.
A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians go hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like several of its Latin American neighbors facing high inflation and large numbers of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political left.
Da Silva could win in the first round, without the need for a second round on October 1. 30, if he obtains more than 50% of the valid votes, which exclude null and blank ones.
An outright victory for da Silva would sharpen the focus on Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count. he has repeated questioned the reliability not only of opinion pollsbut also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to reject the results.
At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have proof of fraud but never produced any, even after the electoral authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as Sept. 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “abnormal.”
Da Silva, 76, was once a metal worker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 2003-2010 term that helped bring tens of millions to middle class.
But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in major corruption scandals involving politicians and business executives.
Da Silva’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months in prison, leaving him out of the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later overturned da Silva’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and in collusion with prosecutors.
Social worker Nadja Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but since 2018 she has been voting for Bolsonaro.
“Unfortunately, the Workers’ Party let us down. It promised to be different,” he said in Brasilia.
Others, like Marialva Pereira, are more forgiving. She said that she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.
“I didn’t like the scandals in his first government, I never voted for the Workers’ Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unjustly imprisoned and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that he makes everyone else look better,” Pereira, 47, said.
Speaking after casting his vote in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing center in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was jailed and could not vote.
“I want to try to get the country back to normal, try to get this country back to taking care of its people,” he told reporters.
Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the military. He turned to politics after he was forced out of the military for openly lobbying for higher military pay. During his seven terms as a fringe lawmaker 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 have raised concerns that his possible rejection of the election results may be backed by senior commanders.
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. Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for the stronger bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also praised him.
After voting on Sunday morning, Bolsonaro told reporters that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. When asked if he would respect the results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.
Leda Wasem, 68, had no doubts that Bolsonaro will not only be re-elected, but will win outright in the first round. Wearing a national soccer team jersey at a polling place in downtown Curitiba, the real estate agent said an eventual victory for da Silva could only have one explanation: fraud.
“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person who supports Lula,” she said.
Savarese reported from Sao Bernardo do Campo. AP journalists Daniel Politi and Carla Bridi reported from Curitiba and Brasilia.