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Brazil: Lula on course for first round victory

Bolsonaro's defeat looks certain, but will he go quietly?

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Every reliable opinion poll shows ex-president Lula with a big enough lead over incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro to win Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday outright, without the need for a runoff.

Over 150 million Brazilians, including almost 700,000 living overseas, are eligible to vote on 2 October, making it one of the world’s largest exercises in democracy.

So the big question now is not who will win, but how will Bolsonaro react when the results confirm that he has lost?

The opinion polls show that over 80 per cent of voters have made up their minds and will not change, and reveal a detectable swing to Lula from supporters of the candidates -Ciro Gomes, Simone Tebet and several others -who trail far behind the two front runners. Politicians from centre and centre-right parties, including half a dozen ministers from Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government in the 1990s, have declared their support for Lula, joining the ample front of left-wing and centre-left parties which he has built around him.

Thirteen reasons to vote for Lula – the battle for democracy. PT election video, 19 September 2022

All this means that Lula is on course to win in the first round.

But Bolsonaro is signalling that he does not intend to accept defeat. Instead he will copy the tactics of his idol Donald Trump – and, against all the evidence, claim fraud. He has been laying the groundwork for months, questioning the reliability of the electoral system, querying the impartiality of the TSE, the Electoral Court, accusing Supreme Court judges of persecution.

He has also begun to tell his supporters that he, not Lula, is going to win outright in the first round with over 60% of votes, and that if the results show something different, then something is wrong.

Evangelicals targeted by fake news. Sons and close allies of Jair Bolsonaro were key in sharing with millions of Brazilians disinformation about the persecution of Christians during the election campaign. Video: BBC News Brasil, 27 September 2022

Bolsonaristas are also relying on an avalanche of fake news in social media, and an increase in violence to intimidate Lula voters. Up and down the country, Lula supporters and campaigners have been attacked, and in several cases, murdered. While these attacks are uncoordinated, the effect could be to make many afraid to make the journey to the polling stations on Sunday. There is also concern for the safety of the thousands of officials, most of them volunteers, who will preside over the ballot boxes. The unprecedented plan by the Ministry of Defence, to carry out a parallel scrutiny of a sample of ballot boxes has been allowed by the Electoral Court, apparently as a sop to calm alleged military worries. It will not interfere in the result, but could cause a certain amount of confusion, which is what the Bolsonaro camp want.

Faced with the very real possibility that Bolsonaro will simply refuse to accept that he has lost, opposition parties, lawyers and social movements are taking steps to safeguard such a result. Teams of observers from the Organisation of American States, the League of Portuguese-speaking countries, and other international monitoring bodies are already in Brazil. Ambassadors from important countries have been contacted to urge their immediate recognition of the election result, which thanks to Brazil’s highly efficient electronic voting system, should be declared within hours of the polls closing. The US government’s recognition of the result, seen as most important, has already been promised.

A nightmare wonderland

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Bolsonaro’s world of alternative reality, in which he wins by a thumping majority in the first round, has recently been on display abroad. In his address to the UN General Assembly in NY, it was Bolsonaro in Wonderland, as he painted a rosy picture of the Brazilian economy, denying the existence of hunger.

A well-documented misogynist, he portrayed himself as a champion of women’s rights. A Covid 19 vaccine-denier whose actions contributed to Brazil having the second highest number of deaths in the world, in retrospect he became a vaccine defender. Accused of corrupt practices and secret deals with congress representatives, he declared himself squeaky clean. A regular encourager of deforestation, illegal mining and logging, he claimed that Brazil’s forests are flourishing and untouched.

Rowdy Bolsonaro supporters mustered outside the Brazilian Ambassador’s hous in London confront a British man who demands respect for the Queen’s funeral. Video: BBC 20 September 2022

In London, Bolsonaro grotesquely used the occasion of the Queen’s funeral to promote his election campaign, presiding over a street rally of baying supporters, causing outrage among residents.

Video: The Guardian, 26 September 2022

Bolsonaro uses the scenes of crowds at big public events like the recent Independence Day celebrations, outside the Ambassador’s house in London, or at his campaign rallies, as proof of his claim that the polls are wrong, and that he really enjoys huge support.

‘There’s no way we can’t win in the first round’, Bolsonaro tells supporters in London. Video: UOL, 18 September 2022

In evangelical churches, where his support is strong, he claims that he has been chosen by God, while Lula, the ‘presidiario’ or jailbird, is the demon personified who will bring communism.

A legacy of destruction

The presidential debate on Thursday night, 29 September, will provide Bolsonaro with a last chance to try and change his poll ratings, and a barrage of scurrilous accusations can be expected. But it will also give Lula the chance to bring up, not only the many scams and shady deals involving the president and his family, but the shocking slashing of social programmes, including school meals, free medicines and creches, which his government has carried out in order to free funds to buy congress representatives’ support.

If Lula wins, his predecessor’s legacy will include the deliberate destruction of social programmes, environmental protection and investment in science and technology built up over the previous three decades. Bolsonaro will leave behind him a chaotic financial situation, as his frantic efforts to buy votes at any cost have wrecked fiscal control and destroyed stability. His abolition of arms controls has put guns in the hands of hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Will Bolsonaro, whose days could now be numbered, go quietly, but like Trump, work to sabotage a new government? Brazil is the country of the anti-climax, so anything is possible.

Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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