Absence of Lula, attacks on Bolsonaro mark Brazil’s 2nd presidential debate

Sao Paulo, Sep 24 (EFE).- The absence of Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro marked Saturday’s second presidential debate ahead of next month’s election.

Bolsonaro and five candidates with little chance of winning the presidency participated in a televised debate that was missing Lula, leader of the polls and whose pulpit was empty during the two hours of discussions.

The progressive former head of state, who this Saturday led two campaign events in Sao Paulo, alleged scheduling problems and lack of time, which earned him harsh criticism from his opponents, some of whom called him a coward.

Bolsonaro, second favorite but 10-15 points behind Lula in the polls, was the other victim of the night, despite being less incendiary than usual and maintaining a somewhat more moderate tone.

As in the first debate, the toughest on the far-right leader was Simone Tebet, of the centre-right Brazilian Democratic Movement. In her first speech, the senator, who barely has 5 percent of the voting intentions, accused Bolsonaro of despising women.

She also called him “insensitive to the pain of others” and slow to buy vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left nearly 700,000 dead in the country, and condemned him for minimizing the data on poverty.

Tebet said Bolsonaro does not work, just rides motorcycles and jet skis, says that “no one goes hungry” and creates fake news. Minutes later she called him “pinocchio” for “blatantly lying.”

The center-left Democratic Labor Party’s Ciro Gomes, third favorite with 7 percent of the support, also poked at the retired army captain, saying Bolsonaro has “surrendered to corruption.”

Gomes, Lula’s former minister, also did not spare criticism of his former ally and his absence from the debate.

He claimed Lula did not show up because he “thought he had already won” and did not want to explain allegations of corruption that dotted his previous mandates.

The far-right Bolsonaro tried to defend himself by highlighting his management and denying any accusation of corruption in his cabinet, despite the suspicions in the health and education offices.

He said his government “put the most machotes (accused of gender-based violence) in jail,” that he “cared the most for the poor,” and that the economy is “doing very well,” in order to appeal to the female and poorest electorates who mostly support Lula.

To try to close the gap with Lula, the president also directly attacked his biggest rival, whom he again called a “thief” and linked him to Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, saying that they are close friends.

All the polls published so far give Lula between 40-45 percent of the vote, compared to 30 percent for Bolsonaro, and some even predict the victory of the candidate of the Workers’ Party in first round.

Father Kelmon, an orthodox religious candidate for the right-wing Brazilian Labor Party at times backed Bolsonaro by adopting his most divisive language in rejection of abortion and in demonization of the left.

He asked Christians not to allow “the return of the left to power,” and pointed to Venezuela, “destroyed by the left,” and Nicaragua for “persecuting the religious.”

Next Thursday a third and final debate will be held before the first round of the elections on Oct. 2. EFE


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