Polls have opened in Brazil’s most polarised presidential elections to date, with left-wing former president Luiz Incio Lula da Silva aiming to defeat right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the run-off vote.
Polling stations opened at 8am (11:00 GMT) and will close at 5pm. The result is expected at about 2am local time on Monday.
Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, won the first round on October 2, but by a much smaller margin than expected by pollsters. Sunday’s race is considered open.
Bolsonaro was first in line to cast his vote at a military complex in Rio de Janeiro. He sported the green and yellow colors of the Brazilian flag that always feature at his rallies. “I’m expecting our victory, for the good of Brazil,” he told reporters afterward. “God willing, Brazil will be victorious today,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, said that heated debates were taking place among people lining at polling station ahead of their opening in the early morning.
Some supporters of Bolsonaro said the incumbent president should be elected as he is a defender of Christian values and the family, said Yanakiew, while Lula’s voters insisted that the former leader was the only one defending the poor.
“We are standing in an area which is traditionally composed by Lula voters as this is a big favelas where people are poor and usually voting for Lula, but it’s interesting to see this division which shows how this is a very tight race where results are very undefined,” Yanakiew said.
The mood in Latin America’s largest country of more than 210 million people is very divided after an extremely hard-fought election campaign.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly cast doubt on the electoral system and hinted that he might not recognise the result if he loses. The election is also receiving a lot of international attention. As a huge carbon reservoir, the Amazon rainforest plays an important role in the fight against global climate change.
In addition, Brazil has enormous natural resources and a large agricultural economy, making it an important player in international trade.
Lula has appealed to Brazilians to elect him to help “rebuild and transform” the country after four years under Bolsonaro. He has pledged to support low-income citizens and reinstate environmental protection policies, especially in the Amazon, which has seen a surge in deforestation and increased attacks against Indigenous people in recent years.
Bolsonaro, whose mantra is “God, family, country”, has announced new support programmes for poor Brazilians while promoting economic development and promising to tackle crime and corruption. He also has stressed conservative values, including his opposition to legalised abortion and drugs while falsely warning that Lula’s return would lead to the persecution of churches.
“Lula’s campaign is about the past; that is its biggest strength and biggest weakness,” Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, recently told The Associated Press.
“It is the memory of boom years of the 2000s that makes people want to vote for him. But his unwillingness or inability to articulate new ideas and bring in fresh faces has left him somewhat helpless as Bolsonaro closes the gap.”
Typically, support for Lula and his Workers’ Party has come from working-class Brazilians and rural areas. Bolsonaro has the backing of conservatives, evangelical Christians – a key voting bloc – and business interests.
Election watchers will be paying close attention to what happens in Minas Gerais, an inland state in Brazil’s southeast that is considered “a micro-sample of the Brazilian electorate”, Al Jazeera’s Latin America editor Lucia Newman reported this week.
“If this race is as tight as most predict, every single vote will count, especially here in Minas Gerais, where no Brazilian president has ever won without winning the state,” Newman said.
Meanwhile, opinions on who should be Brazil’s next president are very diverging.
“I am going to vote for Bolsonaro, he is the candidate I like and identified with. He is from the right-wing but he doesn’t have an ideology,” said Adison de Melo, one of his supporter. “Brazil is moving forward with him despite what others say, he is on the right track,” he said.
Fabiano Barbosa, a Lula’s supporter, couldn’t disagree more: “I have decided to vote for Lula because the opponent is Bolsonaro who has no morals, he makes fun of human misery as we have seen in the [coronavirus] pandemic”.
More than 600,000 people in Brazil have died from COVID-19, the second-highest death toll in the world after the United States. The current president consistently downplayed the threat of infection and touted misinformation and unproven treatments while ignoring international health guidelines on mask use and public activity.
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