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Brazil election: Millions vote in high-stakes presidential elections Bolsonaro vs. Lula

Millions of Brazilians are voting in the most important election in the country’s recent history amid great uncertainty about the outcome and deep concern about what will happen next.

The latest opinion polls gave Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former leftist leader widely known as Lula, a 4-8% lead over far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

That should, in theory, point to a half-hearted victory for Lula after a bitter election race filled with accusations and recriminations. Polls, however, played a part in inaccurate predictions that the 77-year-old would win in the first round with the support of more than 50% of the electorate. His team officials treaded cautiously before claiming victory in the presidential run-off.

There are also fears that Mr Bolsanaro, who has previously claimed he risks being “robbed” of the election, will refuse to accept a narrow defeat.

A win for Mr Bolsonaro, who likes to be dubbed ‘the trump of the tropics’, would deepen deep scars in Brazil and fuel international concerns over the fate of the Amazon days before the Cop27 climate summit kicks off amid warnings from the UN that crucial global warming targets are about to be missed.

Mr. Bolsanaro’s tenure has seen a sharp increase in mining, logging and fire permits in the Amazon, made possible by 600 regulatory changes made by his government. Data from the Brazilian space research agency, Inpe, revealed that in the past 12 months alone, deforestation in the Amazon has increased by 64%, affecting an area larger than New York City. This follows the loss of 8.4 million acres, an area larger than Belgium, in the first two years of his presidency.

Mr Bolsanaro, a 67-year-old former army captain, cast his vote early Sunday at a polling station at a military compound in Rio de Janerio, where he said: “I am waiting for our victory. It will be for the good of Brazil, God willing, Brazil will be victorious today.

Those who vote against Mr. Bolsonaro fear what will happen if he wins or loses.

“Of course I’m worried, very worried,” Wilson, a maintenance engineer, said while waiting to vote for Lula in Sao Paulo. “I am 55 years old and I have never seen our country so polarized, so divided. There is a real possibility that Bolsonaro will call his people to the streets if he loses. He has many violent supporters. I didn’t put up posters for Lula in my house or in my car for security reasons.

“I know people who support Bolsonaro and it’s impossible to rationally argue with them. They think the warnings about what’s happening in the Amazon are just a communist plot; that’s the level we’re talking about.

A woman signs an ‘L’ in support of Lula after voting in the second round of the presidential election in Rio de Janeiro


Wilson’s daughter Marina, a 24-year-old student at the University of Sao Paulo, also worried about what continued Bolsanaro’s authoritarian administration might bring. “I study biology and of course we should all be worried about what is happening in the Amazon. But people are fed all kinds of conspiracy theories. It is an organized denial of truth,” she said.

Marina hopes that the violence feared by her father and others will not take place. But she will stay at home after the publication of the results: “We hope that people will be sensible, that any dispute will be settled by the courts. But we can’t be sure and I won’t go out for the moment.

Mr Bolsonaro and his supporters have been regularly accused of peddling lies on social media and this week the Supreme Electoral Court, the voting watchdog, ordered Lula given the opportunity to respond to misinformation. This allowed the challenger to get a significant amount of TV and radio airtime in the later stages of the campaign.

But some members of Lula’s team remained troubled by the result on election day. “I’m afraid we’ve run an analog campaign in the digital age,” a campaign official said. “Will this one hour broadcast really have that much impact at this point? Unfortunately, many people have swallowed these lies and their minds will not change.

The official said the campaign had spent too much time talking to Lula’s natural supporters and not enough reaching out to those who support Mr Bolsanaro. They also felt that the failure of the first round, as polls had predicted, had deflated the campaign.

“Now the challenge is not just to win, but to win by a significant margin. A narrow victory will most likely lead to the rejection of Mr. Bolsonaro’s vote and then he will go the way of Trump,” the official said.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva votes in Sao Paulo

(AFP via Getty Images)

As the campaign drew to a close this week, Donald Trump stepped in to urge Brazilian voters to block Lula, whom he described as “a radical left-wing madman who will quickly destroy your country.” The former US president, who still insists he beat Joe Biden in the 2020 US election, previously said: “Jair Bolsonaro and I have become great friends over the past few years for the people of the United States. United… He’s a wonderful man and has my complete and total approval.

Heitor Machado, a Bolsonaro supporter, fully backed Trump’s views. “Lula is dangerous, he plays democracy to gain power. If he enters, he will dismantle all the controls, we will go in the direction of Venezuela and Cuba, you will see,” he said.

But while he welcomed Mr Trump’s endorsement of his nominee, Machado, a 39-year-old construction contractor, lamented “interference” from other outsiders.

A group of American actors, including Samuel Jackson, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, tweeted their support for Lula while criticizing Mr Bolsonaro over the deforestation of the Amazon and his denial of Covid, which contributed to the death of 700,000 Brazilians in the pandemic. “Real science makes us stronger, please vote Sunday for brave, open minds and strong, healthy families,” Downey Jr wrote.

“Who are these rich Hollywood stars lecturing us on? What right do they have to do that? Machado asked. “The reason North Americans don’t want us to use the Amazon isn’t something sacred about the environment, it’s because they want to keep South America poor and American corporations can make money with us.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets US President Donald Trump in 2019

(AFP via Getty Images)

Machado and his friend Carlos Azevedo, also in the construction business, said they would take to the streets if there were any attempts to hijack the election.

Asked if they would be armed, and if they knew that some Lula supporters are very worried about what might happen, Azevedo replied: “The president has made some [gun] easier controls. It was to allow us to defend ourselves against the criminals who had it easy under Lula. We protect ourselves, we are not going to act aggressively towards anyone. Nobody needs to be afraid of us or anyone else: it’s just an alarm broadcast by the media.

But the rhetoric used by Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters has prompted some to mobilize for Lula. “If people don’t vote and Bolsonaro comes in, then they have only themselves to blame,” said Maria Goncalves, 29, who took her neighbors to vote for Lula. “This could be the most important election of our lifetimes.”

The Independent Gt

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