Elections in Brazil tense, Lula favorite for the presidency
by Anthony Boodle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilians voted in droves on Sunday for the first round of the most polarized presidential election in decades, which favors left-wing candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
Most polls have given “Lula” a clear lead in recent months, but Jair Bolsonaro has hinted he may refuse to concede defeat, raising fears of institutional crisis or even violence.
Lula, who was previously head of state between 2003 and 2019, has gained a 10 to 15 percentage point lead over his main opponent in several recent opinion polls. He can be elected in the first ballot if he receives more than 50% of the votes considered valid, which several institutes believe is possible.
Lula was in prison during the last presidential election in 2018 while serving a corruption conviction that was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
At his polling station in São Bernardo do Campo on Sunday, he evoked this turning point by denouncing a conviction that had been motivated on political grounds.
“This is an important day for me,” he said. “Four years ago I couldn’t vote because I was the victim of a lie… I want to try to help my country get back to normal.”
Jair Bolsonaro voted in Rio de Janeiro and said he expects to win the election on the first round. The ex-officer repeatedly claimed during the campaign that he didn’t believe the polls, saying their results were inconsistent with the support he was experiencing at his rallies.
“If the elections go clean, we will win today with at least 60 percent of the vote,” he said in a video posted ahead of his election. “All the evidence we have speaks for us. The other side couldn’t win on the street, they didn’t fight, they have no membership, no credibility.”
Polling stations close at 17:00 Brazilian time (20:00 GMT) and results may not be announced until several hours later.
SOCIAL PROTECTION AND THE ENVIRONMENT AT THE HEART OF THE TOPICS
If no candidate is elected in the first round, the top two will qualify for a second round on October 30th.
Bolsonaro has threatened to contest the presidential election result and has made allegations of fraud without supporting evidence; He accused the electoral authorities of conspiring against him and suggested that the army organize a parallel vote, which they refused.
Some critics of the incumbent say that tensions in the campaign could encourage unrest in the event of a runoff, akin to the January 2021 attack by supporters of defeated US President Donald Trump on Washington’s Capitol at the ballot box by Joe Biden a few weeks earlier.
Jair Bolsonaro assured that he would respect the election result if it was “clean and transparent”, without specifying what criteria he would use to judge it.
This Sunday, Brazilian voters must also nominate the 513 members of the lower house of Congress, a third of the 81 senators, as well as the governors and state parliamentarians.
If Lula is the favorite for the presidential election, the conservative coalition supporting Jair Bolsonaro should retain a majority in both houses of Congress, making the task of a left-wing government more difficult.
Key issues at the vote include the risk of famine in certain regions, rising unemployment and the difficulties in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Bolsonaro government has widely criticized for its handling.
Both the incumbent president and Lula have pledged to increase social spending next year.
The left-wing candidate also pledged to introduce new environmental protection policies as the Bolsonaro presidency has been marked by an acceleration in deforestation in the Amazon, which is now at its highest level in 15 years.
As in every election, the army will be mobilized to provide security at around 477,000 polling stations. Following criticism from Jair Bolsonaro, the national electoral authority TSE has also invited an unprecedented number of foreign observers.
(Report by Anthony Boadle, French version by Marc Angrand)
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