More than 40 years have passed since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva —then a metalworker and union leader— ran for the first time in elections to preside over Brazil. It was 1989, the Berlin wall fell and the first Latin American power had recovered democracy shortly before. At that time, a captain named Jair Messias Bolsonaro left the Army through the back door after leading protests among the soldiery for low wages to enter politics. In a climate of extreme polarization marked by misinformation, Brazilians will decide next Sunday to whom they will hand over the helm of one of the world’s largest democracies. The polls, which underestimated Bolsonaro in the first round, announce a heart attack final, because the battle has entered the field of a technical tie.
Leftist Lula, who at 76 heads a broad coalition of parties united in defense of democracy, won the first round on October 2. He got five points (six million votes) from the extreme right. But the most recent polls indicate that the current president continues to shorten distances and contemplates the tie in the margin of error (45% against 49%). It would be the third term for Lula, who governed between 2003 and 2010; or the second of Bolsonaro.
What is striking is that the 67-year-old far-right leader is improving and is hot on Lula’s heels after starring in several apparently harmful incidents, such as the scandal generated by a sexual comment —”there was a flirtation atmosphere”— about some Venezuelan minors who forced to deny that he is a pederast and to apologize for the misunderstanding. The campaign of the Workers’ Party (PT) saw a seam that is still being exploited.
The president has scored a bit this Saturday because the soccer player Neymar has asked for the vote for him during a broadcast together on YouTube in which they have chatted about the World Cup, values and freedom: “The World Cup is close. Everything would be wonderful. Bolsonaro, re-elected; Brazil, champion and everyone is happy”, said the crack of Paris Saint-Germain. A million Internet users followed him live.
Unless one of the two makes an irreparable mistake before, the last televised debate will be held in a climate of maximum expectation on Friday, two days before election day. The previous head-to-head between them was remarkably civil, though the campaign is pretty dirty.
Bolsonaro and Lula propose antagonistic models. But in addition, the health of Brazilian democracy is at stake, weakened by a president who treats the opposition and the critical press as enemies, who systematically questions the Supreme Court, sows doubts about the electronic ballot boxes and wants the Armed Forces to monitor the voting and counting. The future of the Amazon and its effects on climate change also depend on the result.
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Number 13 or 22
Old acquaintances of the electorate, almost all Brazilians are very clear about whether they will type number 13 (that is, Lula) or 22 (Bolsonaro) into the electronic ballot box. The dispute is in the field of the undecided and blank votes (5%) and abstentionists (21%). Both candidates combine the classic campaign, with rallies to strengthen the vote of their faithful in decisive States, with a fierce battle in territories such as social networks or interviews for podcast with giant audiences, which are not subject to the corset of electoral regulations and in this campaign they are proving crucial. They allow them to speak directly to specific niche audiences, be it youth, conservatives or football fans.
Everything goes there. The mission is to be liked, and destroy the reputation of the adversary. Because these elections are also a duel between anti-Bolsonarism and antipetism.
Bolsonaro is shamelessly using public money for electoral purposes to give 20 million needy a monthly payment whose amount is not guaranteed for 2023 or measures that alleviate the hardships of the rest. Both one and the other have also focused on the vote that most resists them. The first lady, the evangelical Michelle Bolsonaro, is on tour to attract female voters, in general, and conservatives, in particular.
Meanwhile, Lula held an event on Wednesday with evangelical leaders in which he reiterated that he personally is against abortion —and recalled that it is Congress, not the president, who legislates on the subject—, unisex toilets were rejected and he indirectly criticized that the school educate against gender equality or homophobia, issues that put the reactionary right on a war footing.
At that event, Lula made two confessions that say a lot about him and the moment Brazil is experiencing: “I’m analog, I don’t have a cell phone. I use other people’s.” And second confession: “I did not imagine the power of the lies that circulate between telephones.” There, Bolsonarismo had a great advantage until recently because in 2018 he already demonstrated his ability.
For this final stretch, Lula’s team has adopted effective Bolsonaro techniques to spread falsehoods, half-truths or large-scale exaggerations. While those of Bolsonaro accuse the leftist of wanting to close churches and of having pacts with Satan or organized crime, his faithful counterattack with suggestions that the extreme right-wing president is fond of cannibalism and pederasty, in addition to being a genocide.
The virulence of the low blows and the amount of disinformation that circulates from mobile to mobile is of such magnitude that the electoral authorities have gone on the offensive. Few in the world consume more daily hours of internet than Brazilians. And these elections are a test in the complex fight against fake news. The Superior Electoral Court has given itself broad powers: it can order Facebook, YouTube, Telegram… to eliminate in two hours content reported that it considers irregular and those that replicate the originals, which has triggered alarms because in its eagerness it has withdrawn, for For example, some statements by a former Supreme Court judge explaining that Lula has not been acquitted, but rather that the corruption cases against him were annulled due to a formal defect. What is true.
The newspaper’s editorial Or Balloon warned this Friday: “The Superior Electoral Court must take all care, under the pretext of safeguarding democratic values, not to end up exercising the role of censor and deteriorating the very democracy it intends to save.”
The issue is delicate because, on the one hand, in an attempt to tidy up the public debate, the judges decide what can be published on the internet and, on the other hand, it gives ammunition to Bolsonarism, a great fan of conspiracy theories and presenting itself as victim of the system
Half of the electorate says that they would never vote for the current president; 46% would never support the leader of the PT. The disenchantment is enormous. Many vote for the least bad while dreaming of one day finding someone who truly respects them, lifts them out of poverty, improves education and ends eternal inequality. But this is not a program campaign.
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