Bloomberg — President Jair Bolsonaro officially kicks off his re-election campaign on Sunday, rallying thousands of his followers to Rio de Janeiro, after intensifying his attempts to discredit Brazil’s voting system.
He’s calling on the government faithful to pack an Olympic arena in a working-class neighborhood for an event billed as “United for the Good of Brazil.”
But with just over two months before the first round of voting, opinion surveys widely show Brazilians think they’d be better off without Bolsonaro. Frustration over spiraling costs of living have propelled former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to lead the race by more than 10 percentage points over the incumbent.
In response, the far-right president has intensified baseless claims of voter fraud and pushed for a flurry of measures to cushion the blow of inflation running at nearly 12%. Earlier this month, congress enacted a multi-billion dollar aid package proposed by the government that expanded cash assistance to the poor.
It remains unclear if the tactics will be enough to drum up additional support or restore faith in Bolsonaro’s stewardship of Latin America’s largest economy. Economists are warning of a recession later this year; hunger is rising.
“At this stage, voting is very much crystallized. There’s not much room for growth,” said Rodolfo Pinto Costa, director of the polling firm PoderData.
Further evidencing the polarization currently gripping Brazil, the event was targeted by anti-Bolsonaro activists who registered false attendees in a bid to empty the arena. Campaign officials said they detected as many as 40,000 fake registrations.
Despite trailing in all major polls, Bolsonaro, 67, has so far ignored the advice of his own advisers to moderate his rhetoric. Instead, he has focused his energy on firing up the most fervent in his base.
For months, Bolsonaro has tried to re-kindle the anti-establishment fervor that helped bring him to power in 2018. And on Sunday, he is convening supporters to the city where he started his political career nearly three decades ago.
He casts his main challenger, Lula, 76, a leftist two-term former president, as a corrupt leader who is seeking to bring about communist rule. But after his botched handling of the pandemic and the economy fizzling, many have grown tired of Bolsonaro’s government.
“The election is much more about Bolsonaro and whether or not people want him for another four years,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo.
While Lula has been vague on his proposals, he has tried to sell an image of a veteran politician who can bring prosperity back to a nation mired in crisis. He left office in 2010 as one of Brazil’s most popular presidents ever, following a commodities boom that produced rapid economic growth and pulled millions out of poverty.
Campaign officials privately acknowledge Bolsonaro’s disadvantage, but claim Lula’s lead is much narrower based on internal polling. Regardless, fears are growing at home and abroad that incumbent will mimic his political inspiration, Donald Trump, and contest the election.