Bolsonaro-Lula Duel in Final Stages

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The first live presidential election debate in Brazil, as was expected, has proven to be nothing but a shouting match among the top six candidates – particularly President Jair Bolsonaro and the lead contender and former President Lula da Silva, were indulged in an intense competition of allegations and counter-allegations throughout the live session. President Bolsonaro, who many times called his main opponent “thief” and “ex-convict” during the debate, used hard-hitting language to snub Lula:”Your government was the most corrupt in Brazilian history. It was a kleptocracy, a government based on robbery.”Lula returned this by telling the audience that his government should be remembered for helping to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty and accused President Bolsonaro of trashing that legacy and was “destroying” the country.

Emotions and tempers were also running even higher among the candidates’ teams watching the debate on a screen backstage.A member of Lula’s team accused the Bolsonaro team of “lacking the necessary maturity to attend the debate” after they had jeered and shouted insults while Lula was speaking.Ricardo Salles, a Bolsonaro ally and former Environment Minister, took umbrage and he and a member of Lula’s team literally came to blows.

The first round of the election will be held on 2 October, with a second scheduled for 30 October if none of the candidates get 50 per cent of valid votes. But seeing the intensity of President Bolsonaro‘s desperate attempts to retain his presidency at all costs,it is predicted he may refuse to accept the results if he musters lesser votes than his main rival Lula-following in the footsteps of his role model Donald Trump, who also refused to accept his defeat at the hands of Joe Biden.

Popular Candidate

Meanwhile, Lula, the most popular candidate according to all recent opinion polls, sternly rebutted accusations of corruption and pleaded his innocence.Lula was convicted of corruption in 2017 and surrendered to federal authorities in April 2018 to begin serving a 12-year prison sentence. However, in 2021, the Supreme Court annulled the conviction, allowing him to run for President again.”I was arrested so you could be elected President, but then I was found not guilty. But I’m going to win now to see in one stroke what you want to hide so badly!”Lula said in reference to Bolsonaro’s alleged efforts to conceal information and weaken transparency since he took office.This is Lula’s sixth attempt for the presidency with the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT).

He served as President from 2003 to 2011 and left office with an approval rating of 90 per cent, after millions of Brazilians were lifted out of poverty during his tenure. However, his good fortune did not last long. After bravely surviving throat cancer in 2011, Lula was convicted of corruption and money laundering six years later, charges were framed after a broad-based investigation into the State-run oil company Petrobras.Bolsonaro, who is tangiblylagging behind Lula in opinion polls, has many times questioned the transparency of the country’s electoral process and criticised in particular the use of electronic ballots — a system that is being used since 2000. The matter does not stop here, President Bolsonaro has also requested the military to do a parallel “public” count of the votes to validate the results. All this indicates that President Bolsonaro is not going to accept his defeat silently. He is going to imitate Donald Trump for sure.

Unrest Warning

The country’s Superior Electoral Court Minister Edson Fachin has already warned about the high probability of unrest “more severe” than the 6 January 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.Though Fachin has reiterated repeatedly that election authorities would not allow interference from the Federal Government or the Armed Forces, but there is every likelihood that President Bolsonaro would not let Lula to snatch the presidency from him easily. The growing poverty and hunger, soaring prices, and a surge in destruction in the Amazon rainforest have certainly dented the popularity of Bolsonaro, who, being a typical populist leader, is apparently not ready to gulp down this bitter reality and is trying to generate the momentum for an agitation and protest campaign to disrupt the whole process in case results are not in his favour.

Therefore, instead of unleashing any concrete plans for the rejuvenation of dithering economy, Bolsonaro is doing only two things: one, smashing allegations of corruption against Lula, and two, to cast doubts on the electoral process. On the other hand, Lula da Silva, who is quite confident about his success in this race for the coveted post, has vowed to launch a major crackdown on the illegal miners and loggers laying waste to the Amazon in the wake of the “barbaric” murders of the Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and the British journalist Dom Phillips. He has also vehemently pledged to create a new ministry for native peoples and rebuild Ibama, the environmental agency, which was allegedly dismantled by President Bolsonaro since taking charge in 2019.

“We will put a complete end to any kind of illegal mining. This can’t be simply through a law – it must be almost a profession of faith,” Lula loudly declared.He has further vowed to make the global climate crisis “an absolute priority” if elected. Lula is committed that he would strengthen Brazil’s federal police and its borders in order to wrest back control of remote Amazon regions such as the Javari Valley, where Pereira and Phillips were killed, from gangs of narco-traffickers and gun-runners.

Though Lula insists that Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon region is categorical, he is also showing his willingness to welcome international help in the battle to reduce deforestation.“We don’t need to cut down even one more tree to plant soybeans. We don’t need to cut down one more tree to plant corn. We don’t need to cut down a single tree to plant sugarcane or raise cattle,” Lula said to reaffirm his commitment to deforestation of the Amazon.

Lula’s showing in recent poll suggests there is a small chance he could ultimately receive over 50 per cent in the first round, avoiding a run-off against 67-year-old Bolsonaro. If the election does advance to a second round, on 30 October, the poll shows Lula is likely to beat Bolsonaro with 54 per cent of the vote. The two main candidates, running in the most polarised presidential race in decades, are far ahead of the other ten challengers. However, despite a high-octane and highly offensive election campaign by Bolsonaro, Lula has been trying to muffle the fears that Brazil might suffer a democratic “rupture” and believes that it is inconceivable the Brazilians would let their hard-fought democracy be derailed easily.

But, a radical far-right former army captain who openly celebrates Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, President Bolsonaro is seemingly preparing to generate massive momentum to stage a last-minute threshold to outcompete Lula in this competition. Bolsonaro has motivated his hardcore supporters to hit the streets “for the last time” on 7 September, Brazil’s Independence Day, to give a final push to his chances in this race.But this call for massive gathering is being read as a kind of threat by all the stakeholders that Bolsonaro would not leave the stage easily without any conflict. That is why, last month, more than a million Brazilians from across the political spectrum signed a high-profile manifesto warning that the country’s young democracy faced a moment of “immense danger.”Certainly, the race has entered a very critical stage and populist fanaticism seems to be on steroids in Brazil.

By Dr. Imran Khalid