Bloomberg — Brazilians head to the polls Sunday for a presidential runoff between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in what’s become the country’s most significant election since the return of democracy almost four decades ago.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and will close at 5 p.m. local, with the governorships for states including Sao Paulo, the most populous, also being decided.
Over 156 million voters are choosing between two starkly different visions for their country: The man universally known as Lula, 77, who governed Brazil between 2003 and 2011, has stumped on memories of past prosperity, and touts his previous experience in office as a means to heal the nation’s deep divisions and end hunger.
Bolsonaro, 67, a God-fearing, former army captain whose style is frequently compared to Donald Trump’s, draws on deep support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector and evangelical community. He pledges to bring Christian values to the top levels of power while cutting bureaucratic red tape to spur growth.
The clash between the country’s two largest political personalities has resulted in a bitter, and at times violent contest, that’s raised concern among electoral authorities and international allies. Both candidates allege their opponent will do irreparable harm. Bolsonaro claims his leftist rival will throw Latin America’s largest economy down a path like Venezuela or Nicaragua. Lula says the far-right president will hollow out democratic institutions if granted another four-year term.
Polls leading into Sunday’s vote show Lula holding a slim lead, but Bolsonaro surprised pollsters with a far stronger-than-expected showing in the first-round vote on Oct. 2. Since then, he’s tried to improve his standing by launching a slew of last-minute economic measures, and has been helped by an improving economic outlook.
But a series of campaign blunders, including a violent incident where a onetime lawmaker and staunch ally of the president fired a rifle and threw grenades at the police sapped Bolsonaro’s momentum in final week of the race.
Days before Sunday’s vote, Bolsonaro intensified attacks on electoral authorities, claiming his campaign was not getting equal access to the airwaves, stoking fears that he may be planning to contest the vote. He has previously said he won’t step down if fraud impacts the results, setting up a potential repeat of what followed the 2020 US presidential election.
Yet on Friday night the president said he will respect the result and that whoever gets one more vote will win the election.
Both the current and former president finished their campaigns in heavily populated states of the Southeast. Lula and Bolsonaro voted early Sunday morning. The leftist cast his vote in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a suburb of Sao Paulo, where he launched his political career as a trade unionist. Bolsonaro voted at a military school in Rio de Janeiro.
--With assistance from Daniel Carvalho, Isadora Calumby and Simone Iglesias.