Brazil votes in tense election with Lula da Silva tipped to win | Election News

Voting is under way in the most divisive presidential election in Brazil’s history, with former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tipped to beat far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Leftist frontrunner da Silva, who is popularly known as Lula, said he is running for president “to get the country back to normal” after four years under President Bolsonaro’s rule.

“We don’t want more hate, more discord. We want a country at peace,” said the 76-year-old ex-president, who is seeking a comeback after leading Brazil from 2003 to 2010. “This country needs to recover the right to be happy.”

About 156 million people are eligible to cast ballots.

Recent opinion polls have given Lula a commanding lead. The last Datafolha survey published on Saturday found 50 percent of respondents who intended to vote said they would choose Lula versus 36 percent for Bolsonaro.

The polling institute interviewed 12,800 people with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Decked out in Lula stickers, Adriana Schneider was voting at a primary school in Rio de Janeiro. The university professor, 48, said Bolsonaro’s administration had been “catastrophic” for investment in culture, arts, science and education.

“We’re living under a barbaric government,” she said.

In Rio’s Rocinha neighborhood, Manuel Pintoadinho, a 65-year-old metalworker, said he voted for Bolsonaro and did not blame him for tough economic times.

“The pandemic ruined everything, inflation is really high,” Pintoadinho said. “It’s not his fault.”

Presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva votes at a polling station in Sao Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil [Mariana Greif/Reuters]

Shift to the left?

Bolsonaro has signaled he may refuse to accept defeat, stoking fears of an institutional crisis or post-election violence. A message projected on Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue ahead of the vote read: “Peace in the Elections”.

Bolsonaro voted in Rio and said he expected to win the election in Sunday’s first round, despite his poor showing in polls. The former army captain does not trust the pollsters, saying their results do not correspond with the support he sees at his campaign events.

“If we have clean elections, we will win today with at least 60 percent of the votes,” Bolsonaro said in a video posted on his social media before voting. “All the evidence we have is favorable to us. The other side has not been able to take to the streets, has not campaigned, has no acceptance, no credibility.”

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said “many people are asking today if Lula will win today or whether there will be a second round on October 30th”.

Like several of its Latin American neighbors coping with high inflation and a vast number of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political left.

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

‘Victim of a lie’

Lula rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions out of poverty.

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

Lula’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months of imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he led against Bolsonaro.

The Supreme Court later annulled Lula’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

Voting in São Bernardo do Campo on Sunday, Lula acknowledged the dramatic turnaround in his fortunes after a conviction he said was politically motivated.

“It’s 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 to return to normal.”

People stand in line to cast their votes outside a polling station, in Rio de Janeiro
People stand in line to cast votes outside a polling station in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday [Lucas Landau/Reuters]

Bolsonaro grew up in a family of modest means before joining the army. He eventually turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise soldiers’ salaries.

During his seven terms as a fringe lawmaker in the lower house of the National Congress of Brazil, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two-decade military dictatorship.

Vowing to defend “God, country and family”, the president retains the die-hard backing of his base – Evangelical Christians, security hardliners and the powerful agribusiness sector.

However, the 67-year-old has lost moderate voters with his management of the weak economy, his vitriolic attacks on Congress, the courts and the press, a surge in destruction in the Amazon rainforest, and his failure to contain the devastation of COVID -19, which has claimed more than 685,000 lives in Brazil.

Post-results scenario

There is a chance Lula could win in the first round without the need for a runoff election on October 30. For that to happen, he would need more than 50 percent of valid votes, which excludes spoiled and blank ballots.

An outright win would sharpen the focus on Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count given that he has repeatedly questioned the reliability not just of opinion polls, but also of electronic voting machines.

Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to reject results.

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to possess evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the electoral 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 “abnormal”.

Political analyst Adriano Laureno said it is likely Bolsonaro will try to contest the result if he loses.

“But that doesn’t mean he’ll succeed. The international community will recognize the result quickly … There might be some kind of turmoil and uncertainty around the transition, but there’s no risk of a democratic rupture,” said Laureno.

A winner could be announced within hours after polling stations close at 5pm Brasilia time (20:00 GMT).

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