Polls put Lula on brink of comeback victory over Bolsonaro in Brazil | Brazil

Brazil’s former leftwing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is on the brink of an astonishing political comeback, with polls suggesting he is poised to defeat his far-right rival Jair Bolsonaro in Sunday’s election.

Eve of election polls suggested Lula was within a whisker of securing the overall majority of votes that would guarantee him a first-round victory against Brazil’s radical incumbent, whose calamitous Covid response, assault on the Amazon and foul-mouthed threats to democracy have alienated more than half of the population.

“I’m going to win these elections so I can give the people the right to be happy again. The people need, deserve and have the right … to be happy once more,” Lula, 76, told journalists on Saturday during a visit to São Paulo – one of the election’s three key battlegrounds, alongside the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

José Roberto de Toledo, a political columnist for the news website UOL, said Lula would undoubtedly come out on top when 156 million citizens voted in what is considered Brazil’s most important election in decades.

Pollsters give the leftist veteran a 14-point lead over Bolsonaro, the hardline nationalist who retains the support of about a third of voters, including many evangelical Christians and members of Brazil’s largely white social elites.

‘I feel like the Beyoncé of Brazilian politics’: the trans woman fighting back against Bolsonaro

But Toledo feared Lula might fall just short of the 50% required to avoid a fractious runoff against Bolsonaro on 30 October, opening the door to a month of uncertainty and political violence.

“I think what’s more likely is that there will be a second round,” Toledo said, warning of “terrible” consequences if that occurred, given the wave of attacks and murders that had marred the lead-up to the election.

“If there’s a second round it will be much worse than it has been thus far. It would mean four weeks of gore,” Toledo warned, adding: “I hope I’m wrong.”

If Lula does prevail, it would represent a once unthinkable political resurrection for a former factory worker and union leader who became Brazil’s first working-class president in 2002.

Lula stepped down after two terms in 2010 with approval ratings close to 90%. But the following decade saw the Workers’ party (PT) he helped found embroiled in a tangle of corruption scandals and accused of plunging Brazil into a brutal recession.

Lula’s apparently irremediable downfall was cemented in 2018 when he was jailed on corruption charges and barred from running in that year’s election, which Bolsonaro went on to win. Lula’s 580-day imprisonment seemed a melancholy end to a fairytale life that saw him rise from rural poverty to become one of the world’s most popular leaders.

But Lula was freed in late 2019 and his convictions were quashed on the grounds that he was unfairly tried by Sérgio Moro, a rightwing judge who later took a job in Bolsonaro’s cabinet.

Lula, who first sought the presidency in 1989, announced his sixth presidential run in May, vowing to beat Bolsonaro by staging “the greatest peaceful revolution the world has ever seen”.

A Lula victory would represent the latest in a series of triumphs for a resurgent Latin American left, which saw the ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro claim power in Colombia in June and the former student leader Gabriel Boric elected Chile’s president last December. Since 2018, leftists have taken power across the region, from Argentina to Peru and Mexico.

Lula supporters are thrilled by their leader’s rebirth and his pledges to wage war on poverty and hunger in a country where 33 million people struggle to eat. During his two terms, Lula won international plaudits for using a commodities boom to bankroll welfare programmes that helped tens of millions escape poverty.

“After he left power everything went to shit,” said Iracy Batista, a 58-year-old homemaker who was among thousands of supporters at a recent Lula rally in Rio.

“Lula’s one of the people, just like us … All Bolsonaro knows how to do is swear at people,” agreed her friend, Clélia Maria da Silva.

Environmental and Indigenous activists are hopeful that Lula, who has pledged to fight deforestation and stamp out illegal gold mining, will halt the assault on the Amazon that has unfolded under Bolsonaro. “With Bolsonaro we die, with Lula we live,” said the Indigenous rights group Opi, which was co-founded by the recently murdered activist Bruno Pereira.

‘No decency’: how Bolsonaro’s international campaigning has landed – video report

Such optimism is tempered by nerves over how Bolsonaro, a former soldier notorious for admiring dictators such as Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, will react if he loses. Some fear the Trump-admiring populist could try to incite turmoil similar to the 6 January insurrection in the US. Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned Brazil’s electronic voting system and refused to confirm whether he will accept defeat.

Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University Latin America specialist and the author of How Democracies Die, said he was troubled by the possibility of violence or upheaval in the coming days and weeks. “In the US, one factor that prevented us from sliding into an even deeper crisis is that the armed forces were unambiguously not going to intervene on Trump’s behalf. I think the military will also not intervene in Brazil, but it’s less certain,” he said.

Challenged over whether he was plotting a coup during a televised debate on Thursday, Bolsonaro declined to respond. He has painted the election as a battle between the upstanding Christian right and the evil and corrupt heretic left and has claimed, without evidence, that Lula will close churches if elected.

Benedita da Silva, a PT congresswoman and Lula ally, said such divisive rhetoric and an explosion of fake news meant it was crucial the election be decided now. “We can’t afford to drag this out any more … Are we going to have another month of agony and all this insanity that he provokes?” she asked. “This country’s democracy is at stake … it is our duty to win on 2 October.”

For all the pre-election angst, Levitsky said there was also cause for optimism over the resilience of Brazil’s young democracy, reestablished in 1985 after 21 years of military rule.

“People add Brazil to the list of cases of democratic back-sliding in recent years like the Philippines and Indonesia, El Salvador, India and Hungary. But it’s not,” he said.

“Brazilians elected an autocrat – maybe the most egregiously autocratic of all the autocratic leaning presidents that have been elected in recent years. But so far Brazilian democracy has held … Four years after the election of Bolsonaro, Brazilian democracy is not dead. That’s good news.”

Leave a Reply