Presidential election in Brazil: the stakes of a second round much tighter than expected

Brazilian voters are once again called to go to the polls on Sunday, October 30, for the second round of the presidential election between Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the left-wing candidate, and Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right incumbent president. . While the country is deeply divided, the election promises to be under high tension and its outcome uncertain, as the results of the first round of the presidential election, on October 2, have reshuffled the cards and destabilized the former left-wing president, a time announced as the great favorite of the ballot.

Lula and Bolsonaro neck and neck

In the first roundthe leader of the Workers’ Party (PT) and president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011, who widely attacked his ultraconservative opponent on his management of the health crisis, the country’s economic crash and the deforestation of the Amazon, is certainly came first, with 48.3% of the vote, but he did not manage to win, contrary to what some polls predicted.

The outgoing president, Jair Bolsonaro, affiliated with the Liberal Party (PL), for his part thwarted all the forecasts by collecting 43.2% of the votes, or six to ten points more than the forecasts of the institutes. At the end of the ballot on October 2, five points separated the two men, that is to say only six million votes out of a total of 123 million.

If the momentum is now in favor of Bolsonaro, Lula remains a priori favorite: given the results of the first round, he would need less than two million additional votes to win, against eight million for the outgoing president. According to the latest forecasts from the polling institute Datafolha, published on October 27, Lula is credited with 52% to 54% of the voting intentions and Bolsonaro with 48% to 46%.

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Important but fragile rallies

The decisive rallies that followed the first round did not, however, reassure Lula’s camp on the outcome of Sunday’s election. The former metalworker has certainly received significant support, but this remains fragile. Simone Tebet, candidate for the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB, centrist), who came third in the first round with a score of 4.2% (or almost five million votes), for example assured Lula of her support from October 5.

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However, other members of the PMDB, such as ex-president Michel Temer (2016-2018), have announced that they support Jair Bolsonaro. The party did not give voting instructions to its supporters. Conversely, the outgoing president received strong support in particular: that of Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais, a decisive state in the Brazilian Southeast, the country’s second electoral college, still undecided. Since the return of democracy to Brazil, no president has been elected without obtaining a majority of votes in this state.

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Lula on the offensive, from right to center

The objective of the candidate Lula for this second round: to snatch in particular the voices of the center and the right. To give them guarantees, the left-wing candidate has detailed measures guaranteeing fiscal stability. Another challenge: to capture part of the vote of evangelicals, who represent a third of the country’s electorate and are overwhelmingly loyal to the far right. During the campaign, a leaflet, entitled “Lula is a Christian”, was distributed, claiming that the leader of the PT “has never spoken to the devil or made a pact with him”. “I am against abortion”declared the left-wing candidate on October 7.

judged too much consensual during his first round campaign and late on social networks in the face of mass fake news by the far right, Lula counterattacked with virulence as the second round approached. Several embarrassing archives for the Bolsonaro camp have been released on the Internet by left-wing influencers. In particular a filmed interview, granted to the New York Times in 2016, in which Bolsonaro recalled his visit to a village in the Amazon and said he would have agreed to indulge in cannibalism if necessary. Lula used the image of the “cannibalistic president” in his campaign spots, before it was banned by the courts.

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The Lula camp also did not hesitate to be indignant at the comments made by Jair Bolsonaro in an interview he gave on October 14 in a podcast. The outgoing president mentioned a motorcycle visit to a poor outskirts of Brasilia, in April 2021, where he said he had met young Venezuelan women, minors, while implying that they were prostitutes. He then used an expression suggesting a physical attraction between him and these teenage girls. The hashtag #bolsonaropedophile then became Brazil’s most commented topic on Twitter.

Bolsonaro conquering the working classes

On the side of Mr. Bolsonaro, the challenge of the second round is to succeed in capturing part of the votes of the working classes, who largely voted for Lula during the first round. During the campaign, the outgoing president multiplied the announcements in this direction: increase in social minima, tax cuts, revaluation of energy checks… During the televised debate between the two candidates on October 16, he did not hesitate to attack his opponent on matters that still tarnish the reputation of the Workers’ Party. Lula, who spent five hundred and eighty days in prison for bribery in 2018 and 2019, had returned to politics after thecancellation of his convictions, in 2021.

Uncertainty on the recognition of results

The left-wing candidate, Lula, said he hoped on October 24 that Jair Bolsonaro would accept the verdict at the polls on Sunday. On several occasions during the campaign, the outgoing president has indeed criticized Brazil’s electronic voting system and threatened not to accept the result.

In the race for undecided voters, Bolsonaro has nonetheless toned down his rhetoric in recent weeks, saying he would accept the result, even if it was ” unnatural “. However, a potentially tense atmosphere after the announcement of the results cannot be ruled out, especially if they are tight. The decrees that the current president has signed in recent months, particularly on the free circulation of firearms, exacerbate tensions.

The post-election challenge

Whoever wins will face strong opposition. In the first round, when there were eleven candidates in the running, 92% of voters voted either for Lula or for Bolsonaro, reflecting the clear polarization of Brazilian political life.

In the event of Lula’s victory, the latter will in any case have to deal with a very conservative Congress. On October 2, in addition to the first round of the presidential election, the Brazilians renewed all the members of the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the seats of senators. In the Chamber of Deputies, the Liberal Party of Jair Bolsonaro won the victory, retaining first place with 99 seats won. In the Senate, he won fourteen seats, against eight for Lula’s Workers’ Party. Finally, the voters also voted, on October 2, the renewal of all the governors and assemblies of the twenty-seven states of the federation. Here again, the far right has made progress.

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If Bolsonaro wins, a number of fears relate to environmental issues. The record of the outgoing president in this area is unanimously considered catastrophic by nature conservationists.. In the Amazon, for example, by the end of the year, nearly 40,000 km2 of rainforest will have been razed.

Presidential election in Brazil: the stakes of a second round much tighter than expected