What you need to know about the crucial elections in Brazil

bRazil heads to the polls on October 2 for crucial general elections in Latin America’s largest economy and most populous country that will determine the next president, vice president and National Congress. The key question on everyone’s mind is whether right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro will get another term or whether left-wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will return to office as part of a resurgent pink wave in the region that has recently seen leftists take power Colombia, Argentina, Mexicoand elsewhere.

The choice between the two men could not be more stark.

For the past four years, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro has done just that questioned the role of the Supreme Court and repeatedly proposed without evidence that the electoral system has been manipulated. He compared COVID-19 to “a little flu,” and endorsed destructive environmental policies that devastated the Amazon rainforest.

Lula ruled from 2003 to 2010, after winning two four-year terms and helping lift millions out of poverty, making him one of the country’s most popular leaders. “Lula is nostalgic to get her old job back,” said Gustavo Ribeiro, a journalist and founder of the English-language political website The Brazilian Report.

However, Lula is also controversial, but in different ways. In September 2016, he was slapped with allegations of corruption which originated from a money laundering investigation known as Operation Car Washwho set out to eradicate corruption among senior Latin American political and business leaders. In July 2017, he was found guilty and a court ruled that he was not allowed to run for re-election in 2018. But in March of last year, Brazil’s Supreme Court set aside the sentenceciting some technicalities and saying Lula’s right to a fair trial was compromised by a biased judge, allowing him to run for president this time.

Brazilian presidential candidate and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a campaign rally for sustainable development in Manaus, Brazil, on August 31, 2022 (Michael Dantas/AFP— Getty Images)

Brazilian presidential candidate and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a campaign rally for sustainable development in Manaus, Brazil, on August 31, 2022.

Michael Dantas/AFP—Getty Images

Lula has held up the Supreme Court verdict as proof of his innocence: he claims the corruption charges were concocted by right-wing forces to keep him out. But recent polls show public opinion is divided.

Read more: bRazil’s most popular president returns from political exile with a promise to save the nation

Anyway, polls I guess Lula will comfortably defeat Bolsonaro, although it is unclear whether he will have enough votes to avoid a runoff on October 30. In Brazil, if no presidential candidate gets more than 50% of the total vote, it triggers a runoff — a major contest between the two front-runners, almost certainly this year Bolsonaro and Lula.

Brazil’s democratic retreat

“Bolsonaro has destroyed the institutions of accountability, he is destroying the state from within,” says Ribeiro. But Bolsonaro made a rare admission on Monday in a podcast that he would retreat if defeated. “If it is God’s will, I will continue, but if not, I will pass through the presidency and retire.

That rhetoric has not quelled concerns that the transfer of power if Bolsonaro loses may not go smoothly, although experts say he is unlikely to have the power to overturn the election. “I don’t think he has the institutional support to do it,” says Ribeiro. But even trying to suggest he has been wronged could help him retain significant influence in Brazil. “Everyone thinks that Bolsonaro can try on January 6 in Brazil if he loses.” We’re not so sure… if it’s going to be a coup d’état. I don’t think so, but it might just be a way for him to leave power but still keep his people with him,” said Tomás Trauman, a Brazilian journalist and political analyst.

Fueling some of these fears is Bolsonaro’s call last September for tens of thousands of his supporters to protest against the court after dispute with the court system because of changes to the voting system that include the president’s attempts to push paper ballots. Brazilian and international media compare the incident until the January 6 uprising on Capitol Hill. While some may point to Bolsonaro taking a page out of US President Donald Trump’s book, Ribeiro says the opposite may be true. “Bolsonaro attacked the system long before Trump became president… He has threatened time and time again not to recognize the results if he doesn’t believe they are fair and honest.”

Civil rights advocates fear that Bolsonaro’s second term could lead to a rollback of democracy or worse.

Bolsonaro’s file in the office

There are fears that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon could reach a tipping point where it turns into dry savannah under Bolsonaro’s second term. This in turn would accelerate global climate change; The Amazon has long functioned as a sink to drain carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and absorbs approx 2 billion tons of CO2 per year (or 5% of emissions). This is shown by data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research more than 3,980 square kilometers were deforested in the first six months of this year, the highest amount since 2016.

Under Bolsonaro, deforestation laws were loosened and environmental agencies suffered staff and budget cuts. “There’s been very little monitoring, fines or attempts to regulate deforestation,” said Amy Erica Smith, an associate professor of political science and an expert on Brazilian politics at Iowa State University. What’s more, Ribeiro says, “Bolsonaro is incentivizing the use of indigenous lands, environmental protection zones for mining, for raising livestock.”

Bolsonaro has also been criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and spreading misinformation about the virus and vaccines. Brazil has over 685,000 recorded deaths from COVID, one of the highest death tolls globally.

What do voters really care about?

While Bolsonaro has raised concerns about Brazil’s democracy, it is unlikely to be on the minds of the average Brazilian voter, experts say. More than a third of Brazilian families are like this addressing food insecurity, according to a study published in May by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), a Brazilian academic institution.

A customer counts money at a fruit and vegetable stand at a market in Salvador, Bahia state, Brazil, August 26, 2022 (Rafael Martins/AFP — Getty Images)

A customer counts money at a fruit and vegetable stand at a market in Salvador, Bahia state, Brazil, on August 26, 2022.

Rafael Martins/AFP — Getty Images

“People are really struggling,” says Ribeiro. “That’s why Bolsonaro broke the bank to increase social spending.”

Bolsonaro cut fuel taxes to lower prices after they rose in part because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. He increased aid payments to the poorest countries through a program called Auxilio Brasil, or Aid to Brazil; in August it began to be distributed $120 monthly cash payments to 20 million families. Inflation is not as big a problem in Brazil as it is in the US and Europe because of lower energy prices. But wages continue to shrink and unemployment is still high, though falling.

So is Bolsonaro especially popular among evangelicals Christians, who make up almost a third of the country’s population, according to polling firm Datafolha. (In 2018 approx 70% of those voters supported Bolsonaro.) “There are enough evangelicals out there who can really make a difference,” Smith says.

“Bolsonaro is the first candidate to really embrace them,” says Traumann. He gave them key ministerial positions as well as appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court which was evangelical. Lula, on the other hand, faced off pushback from many evangelicals the following remarks he made earlier this yearr that abortion should be seen as a public health issue rather than a religious one. Bolsonaro has repeatedly stressed his commitment to ensuring that most abortions remain illegal in Brazil.

This does not mean that all evangelicals vote in bloc. Some female voters in particular may be put off by what experts say is Bolsonaro’s misogyny. Smith doubts evangelicals will come out as strongly as they did for Bolsonaro in 2018 because “they will be evaluating him not only on culture war issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights, but also his performance on the economy and the pandemic she says.

But if the polls are right and Lula prevails on either October 2 or October 30, Brazilians – and much of the world – will tune in to see what happens next.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor c [email protected].

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