Bolsonaro vs. Lula: What to Know About Brazil’s Runoff Election

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Brazilians will head to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in a bruising runoff between two candidates offering starkly different visions for the future of Latin America’s biggest democracy.

The right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has rallied supporters around what he calls a leftist attack on family values and individual liberties. He has cast academics, the media and even democratic institutions, including Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court, as enemies.

The leftist challenger, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president, has vowed to govern for all Brazilians, while returning the country to a more prosperous past, though his own history of corruption scandals has divided voters.

During the first round of voting on Oct. 2, Mr. da Silva drew about six million more votes than Mr. Bolsonaro, who came in second, but he fell short of the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. Mr. Bolsonaro did far better than pollsters had predicted, suggesting that Sunday’s race could be close.

On Sunday, the electoral authority will start releasing results after polls close at 4 p.m. E.S.T. The new president will be sworn in on Jan. 1.

The Times will be covering the election live all day.

The election comes at a crucial moment for Brazil, where surging food and fuel prices, coupled with a painful economic slowdown, have made life harder for many Brazilians. About 33 million of the country’s 217 million people are experiencing hunger, while poverty has surged, reversing decades of social and economic progress.

Environmental and climate worries also loom large. Deforestation in the Amazon has hit 15-year highs under Mr. Bolsonaro, who has weakened environmental protections and argued that the rainforest should be opened to mining, ranching and agriculture. The Amazon’s destruction — and its effects on the efforts to avert a climate crisis — has turned Brazil into a global outcast.

There are also lingering questions about the health of Brazil’s democracy. Mr. Bolsonaro has sowed doubts about the integrity of the electoral system, claiming without evidence that the country’s electronic voting machines can be rigged. If he loses on Sunday, he has said, it would only be because of fraud.

This has fueled worries — at home and abroad — that a potential loss for Mr. Bolsonaro may prompt him to rally his millions of supporters, calling on them to take to the streets and demand that he remain in power.

Mr. Bolsonaro has promised to hand out cash payments of about $113 a month to needy families, extending a temporary policy originally created to ease the pandemic’s blow.

Continuing the program, which replaced a similar but less generous initiative introduced under Mr. da Silva, is meant to “reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable economic growth,” according to Mr. Bolsonaro’s official policy plan.

Ahead of the election, Mr. Bolsonaro has spent heavily on welfare and fuel subsidies.

He has also pledged to create jobs by eliminating bureaucratic red tape, slashing taxes and investing in technology. In a further nod to business leaders, who provided him vital support during his first run for president, Mr. Bolsonaro said he would maintain a free market approach and keep public debt in check.

Echoing the rhetoric that won him support from ultraconservative and evangelical voters four years ago, Mr. Bolsonaro also promises to defend “the family,” opposing legal abortion and transgender education in schools.

Mr. Bolsonaro also promises to expand tough-on-crime policies, pledging to further expand access to firearms, a policy he credits for a drop in violent crime across Brazil.

Mr. da Silva oversaw a golden era of growth during his two terms in office, when a commodity-fueled boom turned Brazil into a global success story. He promises to return the country to those glory days.

The leftist candidate vows to raise taxes on the rich and boost public spending, “putting the people in the budget.” His plans include a slew of social programs, such as a $113 monthly cash voucher rivaling the one proposed by Mr. Bolsonaro. Poor families with children will also receive another $28 per month for each child under 6.

Mr. da Silva has also promised to adjust Brazil’s minimum wage in step with inflation and revive a housing plan for the poor, while guaranteeing food security for people facing hunger.

A former trade unionist, Mr. da Silva plans to kick start growth and “create work and employment opportunities” by spending on infrastructure. But he also plans to invest in a “green economy,” warning that Brazil must shift to more sustainable energy and food systems.

On the Amazon, Mr. da Silva has signaled that he will crack down on environmental crimes by militias, land grabbers, loggers and others.

In the first round of voting, Mr. da Silva won 48 percent of the vote, while Mr. Bolsonaro received 43 percent of the vote, significantly outperforming pre-election polls and raising questions about the credibility of polling firms.

The flawed polls also gave credence to Mr. Bolsonaro’s claims that the surveys did not accurately reflect his popularity.

Polls heading into Sunday’s vote show Mr. da Silva with a narrowing lead over Mr. Bolsonaro with both candidates intensifying efforts to shore up voter support.

Mr. da Silva has focused on striking a more moderate tone and forging alliances with centrist presidential candidates who did not make it out of the first round as a way to win over some of the 10 million voters who cast ballots for them.

Mr. Bolsonaro has cozied up to right-wing governors in Brazil’s three most populous states, seeking to turn political endorsements into votes. He has also enlisted religious leaders in his quest to widen his advantage among evangelical voters.

Still, much of the campaign — already marked by misinformation and vicious online attacks — has devolved into mudslinging with little discussion of the challenges the country’s next leader will face.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s has tried to tie his rival to Satanism, prompting Mr. da Silva to issue a statement confirming that he “does not have a pact” with the devil. Mr. da Silva, for his part, has seized on unflattering videos of Mr. Bolsonaro that link him to freemasonry, cannibalism and pedophilia.

Brazilians will cast ballots on electronic voting machines, a system that has been in place for more than two decades and that has been the focus of Mr. Bolsonaro’s claims about the risk of election fraud.

Some 156 million Brazilians are eligible to cast a ballot in the election. Voting in Brazil is compulsory, though the fine for not casting a ballot is less than a dollar and mostly symbolic. In the first round, turnout was roughly 79 percent.

Turnout typically falls in the second round because the elimination of candidates after the first round dampens enthusiasm among some voters. Some poorer voters who would tend to favor Mr. da Silva might also sit out the runoff because the cost of getting to the polls in such a sprawling country can be a disincentive.


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