Brazilians head to the polls on Sunday in their most crucial election for years, with leftist challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva the slight favorite to put an end to four years of destructive government by the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Opinion polls on the eve of the ballot gave Lula, as the Workers' party candidate is known, a lead of between four and eight percentage points.
However, before the first round, polls underestimated the incumbent's numbers, and there is no guarantee he will not spring a surprise and win another four years in power. The two candidates slugged it out in a desperate final debate on Friday night that started with 30 minutes of name-calling and improved a little over the next two hours. "Bolsonaro has not made one proposal for the future of Brazil," Simone Tebet, who placed third in the first round and is now a Lula baker, said about the president's persistent attacks. "He prefers to use the debate to provoke and accuse.
It's the narrative of the defeated." Lula has all the momentum after a week dominated by both prosaic and dramatic setbacks for the populist incumbent. Last Sunday, one of his most rabid backers threw grenades at police officers and shot at their cars when they went to arrest him for breaking the rules of his parole. Bolsonaro denied any links to the man, former congressman Roberto Jefferson, but his claims were quickly scotched as photos of the two men were shared widely online. Bolsonaro’s persistent lying . He is accused of spreading fake news, and misinformation brought him another setback later in the week when the supreme electoral court, the body that oversees elections in Brazil, gave Lula time to respond to the falsehoods.
The decision meant Lula had significantly more TV and radio spots during the campaign's last week. A Lula victory would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks in political history. A former union leader who lost three presidential elections before finally winning in 2002, the now 77-year-old led the country for eight years before leaving office with approval ratings above 80%. But his hand-picked successor was impeached, and a wide-ranging corruption scandal led to the trial and jailing of several senior Workers' party officials. Lula himself spent almost two years in prison before his conviction was annulled.
Since then, he has fought tirelessly against an opponent who will go down in history for the way he has tarnished Brazil's highest office than for any significant policy achievements. Bolsonaro frequently belittled opponents, and his botched handling of the pandemic ended with almost 700,000 deaths in Brazil. Deforestation in the Amazon rose to a 15-year high, and a scandal is brewing over his creation of a "secret budget" that gives money to political allies with little transparency or oversight.
In the debate, he pointed out that Brazil's homicide rate fell under his watch and promised to increase the minimum salary, an essential measure in Brazil, by 15%. Lula, however, reminded voters that his first two terms between 2003-2011 were a success and promised voters more of the same. "Turn out to vote on the 30th," he said. "Vote, and we are going to fix the country. And you are going to be happy again.