Lula and Bolsonaro will star in the most polarized Brazilian presidential election in recent years

Special for Infobae of New York Times.

The Brazilians who will vote on Sunday will choose between two political titans, with very different plans and ideologies.

RIO DE JANEIRO — During the last decade, Brazil has gone from one crisis to another: the environmental destructiona economic recessiona president dismissedtwo presidents incarcerated and a pandemic killed more people than anywhere else outside the United States.

On Sunday, Brazilians will vote for their next president, hoping to propel Latin America’s largest country into a brighter and more stable future, and will decide between two men that are deeply linked to its tumultuous past.

This election is considered one of the most important in the country in decades, according to Brazilian historians, in part because may be at risk the health of the fourth largest democracy in the world.

The incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a far-right populist whose first term has been notable for his agitation and constant attacks on the electoral system. He has sparked outrage at home and concern abroad over his policies that accelerated deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, his bet on unproven drugs instead of the COVID-19 vaccines and their harsh attacks on political rivals, judgesjournalists and health professionals.

The opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a passionate leftist who oversaw Brazil’s rise during the first decade of this century but later went to jail on charges of corruption. Those charges were later dropped, and now, after leading the polls for months, the man known simply as Lula is about to complete a surprising political resurrection.

They are perhaps the two best-known and most polarized figures in this country of 217 million people, and for more than a year they have been presenting voters with very different visions for the nation, whose economy has been battered by the pandemic and global inflation. .

Bolsonaro, 67, wants to sell Brazil’s state oil company, open up the Amazon to mining, relax gun regulations and introduce more conservative values. Da Silva, 76, promises to raise taxes on the rich to expand services for the poor, including expanding the social safety net, raising the minimum wage and feeding and housing more people.

Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan is “God, family, country and freedom”, while Da Silva has built his speech around the promise to guarantee that all Brazilians can enjoy three meals a day, including, occasionally, a superior cut of meat and a cold beer at a family roast.

Rather than their plans for the future, however, much of the race has revolved around each candidate’s past. Brazilians have lined up on one side or the other, largely based on their opposition to one of the candidates, rather than their support for them.

“The main word in this campaign is rejection,” said Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at Arko Advice, one of Brazil’s largest political consultancies. “These elections are a demonstration of how voters in a polarized country are unifying around what they hate instead of what they love.”

The focus on Sunday — when a total of 11 presidential candidates will be on the ballot — will not just be on the vote counts, but on what happens after the results are announced.

Bolsonaro has spent months questioning the security of Brazil’s electronic voting system, claiming without evidence that it is vulnerable to fraud and that da Silva’s supporters are planning to rig the vote. Bolsonaro has said, in effect, that the only way for him to lose is for the elections to be stolen from him.

“We have three choices for me: jail, death or victory,” he told supporters at huge rallies last year. “Tell the bastards that I will never be caught.”

Earlier this year, the military began to question the electoral system along with Bolsonaro, raising concerns that the military might back the president if refuses to admit defeat.

But in recent weeks, the military and election officials agreed to a change in the testing of voting machines and military leaders say they are now satisfied with the security of the system. The military would not support any effort by Bolsonaro to contest the results, according to two senior military officials who spoke anonymously due to rules that prevent military officials from discussing politics. Some high-ranking generals have also recently tried to persuade Bolsonaro to surrender if he loses, according to one of the officials.

However, Bolsonaro does not seem to be satisfied. On Wednesday, his political party published a two-page document in which he claimed, without evidence, that government employees and contractors had the “absolute power to manipulate election results without leaving a trace.” Election officials responded that the claims “are false and dishonest” and “a clear attempt to hinder and disrupt” the election.

On Thursday, in the last debate before Sunday’s vote, another candidate directly asked Bolsonaro if he would accept the election results. She did not reply, but instead insulted the candidate, saying that she was only challenging him because she had not given him a job. (She then asked him if he was vaccinated against COVID-19—his government considered his vaccination status a classified matter—and he responded similarly.)

Da Silva has held a commanding lead in the polls since last year. If no candidate exceeds 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, the top two will compete in a runoff on October 30. It looked like Bolsonaro and da Silva would end up in another showdown, but the recent surge in da Silva’s poll numbers suggests he could win outright on Sunday.

A victory for da Silva would continue a shift to the left in Latin America, with six of the seven largest nations in the region electing leftist leaders since 2018. It would also be a major blow to the global movement of right-wing populism that has spread. in the last decade. Former President Donald Trump is a key ally of Bolsonaro and has backed the Brazilian president.

Polls suggest that if Da Silva wins the presidency in Sunday’s first round it would only be by a narrow margin, creating an opportunity for Bolsonaro and his supporters to argue that the results are due to electoral fraud.

Political leaders and analysts believe that Brazil’s democratic institutions are prepared to resist any efforts by Bolsonaro to challenge the election results, but the country is bracing for violence. Seventy-five percent of Bolsonaro supporters told Brazil’s most prominent pollster in July that they had “little” or no support for voting systems.

“The only thing that can take away Bolsonaro’s victory is fraud,” said Luiz Sartorelli, 54, a software salesman in São Paulo. He listed several conspiracy theories about past fraud as evidence. “If you want peace, sometimes you have to prepare for war.”

The elections could also have major global environmental consequences. 60 percent of the Amazon is within Brazil, and the health of the rainforest is critical to curbing global warming and preserving biodiversity.

Bolsonaro has relaxed regulations on logging and mining in the Amazon and cut federal funding and personnel from agencies that enforce laws meant to protect indigenous populations and the environment.

In his campaign, he has promised to strictly enforce environmental regulations. At the same time, he has questioned the statistics showing the increase in deforestation and has said that Brazil must be able to take advantage of its natural resources.

Da Silva has promised to end all illegal mining and deforestation in the Amazon and has said he will encourage farmers and ranchers to use unoccupied land that has already been deforested.

With a consistent lead in the polls, da Silva has run an overly risk-averse campaign. He has turned down many interview requests and, last week, did not show up for a debate.

But he showed up at the debate on Thursday, in which Bolsonaro immediately began attacking him. He called Da Silva a “liar, ex-convict and traitor.” He claimed that the left wanted to sexualize children and legalize drugs. And he tried to tie Da Silva to an unsolved murder 20 years ago. “The future of the nation is at stake,” he told voters.

Da Silva said that the president was lying. “You have a 10-year-old daughter watching this,” he said. “Be responsible.”

André Spigariol and Flávia Milhorance collaborated with the reporting.

Jack Nicas is the Times’ Brazil bureau chief, which covers Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. He used to cover technology from San Francisco. Before joining The Times in 2018, he spent seven years at The Wall Street Journal. @jacknicas | Facebook

André Spigariol and Flávia Milhorance collaborated with the reporting.

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