Brazilians voted yesterday in the first round of their country’s most polarised election in decades, with leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expected to beat right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.
Most opinion polls have shown Lula with a solid lead for months, but Bolsonaro has signalled he may refuse to accept defeat, stoking fears of institutional crisis or post-election violence.
Most surveys favour Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, by 10-15 percentage points.
If he wins more than 50% of valid votes, which several pollsters show within reach, he would clinch an outright victory, foregoing a second-round vote.
Wearing a “Get Out Bozo” shirt, Rio de Janeiro resident Anna Luisa, 70, said she is voting for Lula for the first time.
“I have to take down Bolsonaro,” she said, citing his stance over Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, which Bolsonaro has long supported.
Casting her vote in the capital, Brasilia, housewife Aldeyze dos Santos, 40, told AFP that she supports Bolsonaro because “I’m a Christian, I only vote for candidates who are for what’s in the Bible”.
Beloved by his fans, Lula is also loathed by many Brazilians for his graft conviction.
Bolsonaro often refers to him as “the inmate”.
The leftist was jailed during the last election, serving time for a conviction later overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing him to face his rival Bolsonaro this year.
Voting in São Bernardo do Campo, Lula acknowledged the dramatic turnaround in his fortunes after a conviction that he says was politically motivated.
“It’s an important day for me,” he said. “Four years ago I couldn’t vote because I was the victim of a lie ... I want to try to help my country to return to normal.”
Bolsonaro voted in Rio, and said he expected to win the election in yesterday’s first round, despite his poor showing in surveys.
The former army captain does not trust the pollsters, saying that their results do not correspond with the support at his campaign events.
“If we have clean elections, we will win today with at least 60% of the votes,” Bolsonaro said in a social media video. “All the evidence we have is favourable to us.”
If no candidate wins over half of the votes, excluding blank and spoiled ballots, the top two go to an October 30 run-off.
Bolsonaro has threatened to contest the result of the vote, after making baseless allegations of fraud, accusing electoral authorities of plotting against him and suggesting that the military should conduct a parallel tally, which they declined to do.
Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, currently head of the federal electoral court, said he expected a peaceful day with “tranquil” results.
Moraes – who has been one of Bolsonaro’s main foes, leading investigations into him and his allies – tweeted that the electoral court “continues to work so that we all have a peaceful and calm Sunday”.
A decisive victory by Lula could
reduce the odds of a tumultuous transition.
Bolsonaro’s attacks on the voting system have raised fears of a Brazilian version of the riots at the US Capitol last year after his political role model, former president Donald Trump, refused to accept his election loss.
On Saturday Trump gave Bolsonaro a glowing endorsement, calling him a “fantastic leader” in a video posted on social media.
Brazilians were also voting yesterday for all 513 members of the lower chamber of Congress, a third of the 81 members of the Senate and state governors and legislatures.
Though Lula leads the presidential race, Bolsonaro’s conservative coalition is expected to hold a majority in both chambers of Congress.
That could present challenges for the leftist to govern a country with rising hunger, high unemployment and an uneven recovery from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Lula and Bolsonaro have both promised more generous welfare spending next year, adding to pressure on the federal budget.
As in past elections, Brazil’s military has been mobilised to heighten security at some 477,000 polling stations, using electronic voting machines that allow for swift tabulation of results by the national electoral authority (TSE).
Following Bolsonaro’s criticisms of Brazil’s voting systems, the TSE invited a record number of foreign election observers, including first-time missions from US observers at the Carter Centre and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
Political analyst Adriano Laureno said it is likely Bolsonaro will try to contest the result if he loses.
“But that doesn’t mean he’ll succeed,” added Laureno, of consulting firm Prospectiva. “The international community will recognise the result quickly ... there might be some kind of turmoil and uncertainty around the transition, but there’s no risk of a democratic rupture.”
Political leaflets litter the sidewalk outside a polling station in Brasilia during the legislative and presidential election yesterday.