By Bryan Harris and Michael Pooler
The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and his rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva they have resorted to unedifying attacks as they fight for crucial votes ahead of what is expected to be a tight runoff at the end of the month.
Bolsonaro’s campaign on Tuesday launched a television ad linking leftist Lula to crime, saying he received the most votes from prisoners in the recent first round of voting.
Another ad attacking him focused on the history of corruption under Lula’s Workers’ Party, suggesting that voters would be complicit if they backed the former president.
Meanwhile, Lula’s allies have seized a 2016 video of Bolsonaro in which the then-legislator said he had been prepared to commit cannibalism during a trip to the Amazon jungle with an indigenous tribe.
“Bolsonaro would eat human flesh,” shouted a campaign video posted after the first round of elections on October 2 that was later banned by the country’s electoral court.
The attacks show how the gloves have been removed in the race for the presidency of Latin America’s most populous democracy as the distance between the two candidates has narrowed.
The two polarizing politicians will compete in a second round on October 30, after a closer-than-expected but inconclusive first round. In that vote, Lula obtained 48.4% of the valid votes, while Bolsonaro won 43.2%, confusing pollsters who had pegged his support at thirty-something.
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Bolsonaro will need more than 6 million additional votes in the second round to be re-elected.
Lula’s rejection rate among voters has increased considerably since the first round of elections. A survey conducted by Datafolha late last week found that it was up 6 percentage points, while Bolsonaro’s was down one percentage point.
Both candidates have complained about the new attack videos and filed false news charges, even though the offensive content is often not created by the campaigns themselves.
networks and religion
Filipe Campante, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said such ads were the “natural consequence of social media’s dominant role in the political media landscape.”
He continued: “Social media has two key distinguishing features that matter here. One, scandalous content breeds more engagement, and engagement is king. Two (…) anyone is a content provider. Therefore, scandalous content can be published with a little more distance from the official campaign.”
After a first-round campaign dominated by two divisive personalities that lacked political detail, citizens hoping for a more enlightening debate on issues like the economy have so far been disappointed.
The lower accusations against Lula point to the sensitivity of evangelical Christians, a growing community in Brazil that tends to be socially conservative, it represents around a third of the 215 million inhabitants and is a pillar of Bolsonaro’s support.
Lula’s team has been forced to deny that he plans to close churches and defend him against accusations of Satanism, insisting on his own Christian faith. “Lula has no pact nor has he ever conversed with the devil,” read a flyer published this week.
“This type of debate has been fertile ground for Bolsonaro to keep his base active in recent years,” said Mario Braga, a senior analyst at Control Risks.
Bolsonaro’s campaign has been buoyed by key victories in the gubernatorial election. In Minas Gerais, a key state in the country’s southeast, Governor Romeu Zema has promised to support Bolsonaro and could play a crucial role in changing the region he voted for Lula in the first round.