More than 120 million Brazilians are going to the polls this Sunday with two certainties and two doubts. The first certainty is that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will return to power after 12 years. Second, current President Jair Bolsonaro will not accept defeat and will fight the result by any means necessary.
The first question is whether this Sunday Lula will get 50% plus one of the votes needed to win the first round of voting. In the Datafolha poll released on Thursday the 29th, Lula received 50% valid voting intentions. If you don’t reach 50% plus one, there will be a second round on October 30th.
The second unknown is how fiercely the Bolsonarists will contest the outcome.
Lula and Bolsonaro are the greatest Brazilian leaders of the 21st century. There isn’t a Brazilian who doesn’t have a firm opinion on one or the other, which meant that from the start of the election campaign no third candidate had the opportunity to surprise. The Brazilian election has become an intense comparison and rejection of both personalities.
At 76, Lula is running for his last election. After leaving the presidency in 2010 with more than 80% approval, he was convicted and jailed on charges of leading a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme. In 2020, the Supreme Court nullified the case, calling the judge who sentenced him biased. In his time of ostracism, no one accepted the emptiness of being the opposition to Bolsonaro.
Former army captain and deputy Jair Bolsonaro, 67, was elected in 2018 on a radical anti-system platform. His government has combined liberal economic reforms with a conservative program on customs and a regressive program on the environment and science.
Bolsonaro encouraged ranchers, loggers and miners to exploit Amazon land, lifting fines and avoiding penalties for encroaching on indigenous lands and national parks. More forests were cut down in Bolsonaro’s four years than in the previous eight years.
As the Covid pandemic hit, the President called the virus a “little flu”, insisted everyone went back to work, defended ineffective drugs and postponed vaccine purchases. In the end, more than 680,000 Brazilians died from Covid.
Throughout the election campaign, polls have shown that more than half of voters oppose Bolsonaro. Even in August, when the President increased social benefits for the poorest families in a populist move, his assessment did not change significantly. It is the first time in Brazil that a president running for re-election has come second in the first ballot.
Since Lula’s conviction was overturned, Bolsonaro has risen up against the Supreme Court, accusing the judges of conspiring against him. As the court allowed governors and mayors to issue bans to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Bolsonaro called popular demonstrations demanding the court’s closure. Bolsonaro has questioned the reliability of e-ballot boxes, repeating dozens of times that he was only inferior in fraud. “If I don’t have 60% of the votes, it’s because something abnormal happened,” he said.
Like his idol Donald Trump, Bolsonaro will contest defeat. This is done by legal means, but also through demonstrations on the streets. No one can predict whether these protests will turn violent.
With no structured party, Bolsonaro must keep his base ablaze so he can lead the opposition to an eventual Lula government. It would be the tropical version of the big lie tactic used by Trump to discredit Biden’s management and insist he really won the election.
Lula’s interlocutors have been visiting active and reserve generals in recent weeks to see how the force would behave in the event of a presidential coup attempt. The answers, as expected, were that the armed forces would abide by the constitution.
Lula is the favorite to win Brazil’s elections less because of his promises for the future and more because of the past he represents. “We need to eat picanha and drink beer on Sundays again,” he says at almost all his rallies, alluding to the economic boom that Brazil experienced in 2010. It won’t be easy, but the polls show that Brazilians believe they can go back in time with Lula.
Thomas Traummann is a journalist, political analyst and researcher at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV-DAPP).
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