olarisation is fast becoming the order of the day across the globe and now it is Brazil’s turn to experience it in the ongoing bitterly fought and scurrilous Presidential election. With the high stakes, campaigning rose to such an acrimonious pitch that the Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro called his arch rival, Left-wing candidate and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva “a thief,” while the latter dubbed him a “mad man.”
But the results, after over 99 per cent of the votes cast were counted, show there is no clear winner, though Lula’s vote share is 48.4% against Bolsonaro’s 43.2%. According to Brazil’s electoral system, if the winning candidate fails to get over 50 per cent of the ballot, there will be a second run-off. Hence, the decisive battle for the Presidency will be fought on 30 October when the electorate will give their final verdict on who will be their next President.
Exuding confidence, Lula has used a football metaphor to strike a chord in the hearts of the soccer-crazy nation.
Soon after the results were announced he said the run-off “is simply extra time” when two soccer teams are made to play for 15 more minutes to score the winning goal. “We will rest for 15 minutes and then get back out on to the pitch to score the goals we did not score in normal time,” he said. His task is now to convince the voters to give him 2 per cent more votes than he has secured.
At this stage the battle is delicately poised. Winning outright in the first round was always going to be difficult for any candidate. The last time it happened was 24 years ago. Incumbent President Bolsonaro and Lula had tried to convince the electorate that they would not need the run-off election. For the 76-year-old Lula surging ahead of Bolsonaro is indeed a remarkable comeback. He could not run in the 2018 election because he was in prison after being convicted of corruption charges. But the ruling was later annulled. Lula was pronounced not guilty and the judge, who had ordered prison term for him, was slammed for showing animus against him.
The current results have shown the pollsters were wrong in writing off Bolsonaro who has got back his confidence to clinch the issue in his favour. He became so nervous before the polls that he made wild allegations about possible manipulation of the electronic voting machines and even threatened that if he lost the race there would be frightful consequences. This was a hint that he would try to hang on to power the way his favourite, former US President Donald Trump, had attempted through violence by his supporters at the Capitol Hill. The fact that he is now silent on his fears of possible electoral fraud and threat not to accept the verdict shows he is highly encouraged by the poll outcome. This is because Brazilian society seems to be nearly vertically split between Left and Far-right supporters.
One major reason for Lula bouncing back is the ruthless exploitation of the Amazon rainforest during the tenure of Bolsonaro. The latter is for opening up the rainforest for economic exploitation. There are allegations that his government allowed illegal trade in timber. Deforestation and forest fires have soared during Bolsonaro’s term in office. Climate activists have warned that if he is re-elected, the area could reach a tipping point. Voters in Brazil have many other pressing concerns such as rising food prices, which have contributed to an increase in poverty and hunger. Bolsonaro acknowledged these concerns in a statement after the results were out. “I understand that a lot of the vote was down to the situation the Brazilian people are in. I do understand that there is a desire for change but some change can be for the worse,” he warned.
Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been so bad that over 700,000 lives were lost. He called it “a little flu” and relied on quacks. This antagonised a sizable number of the electorate.
Though Lula has an edge over Bolsonaro, the final outcome may go either way, given the sharp polarisation evident from Donald Trump’s exhortation of the voters to choose Bolsonaro.