Brazilians vote in presidential runoff after highly polarized campaign

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Oct 30 (EFE).- While Robinson wants Brazil to return to dignified living conditions without gun violence, Rossana wants the country to avoid becoming an Argentina or a Venezuela. Two points of view reflecting the thinking of millions of voters on Sunday as they head to polls to determine who will govern the South American giant for the next four years.

In the most polarized election in the country’s history, more than 156 million Brazilians are eligible to cast their ballots in the second round of the presidential vote, with reports indicating that voting is proceeding calmly across the country.

On the one hand are those who want the left to return to power, with former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva the standard bearer for that point of view, while many conservatives want ultrarightist Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking reelection, to continue to lead the nation.

In contrast to the first electoral round, when long lines at polling stations were the common denominator, on Sunday – so far, in any case – there have been no long waits for people at the polls.

The public, however, had been prepared for today’s activities and a great many people arrived at their precincts early and waited for more than 30 minutes for the polls to open at 8 am.

Early in the afternoon, the situation was calm all across the country and there appear to have been no altercations or worse between followers of the two candidates and no campaign activities – which are prohibited on election day – have been reported.

Despite the fact that the country is sharply divided between left and right, and the latest voter surveys showing Lula leading Bolsonaro by only four to eight percentage points, many people went to the polls saying they had been forced to take sides “because there were no other” candidates, as a number of voters accosted by EFE declared, adding that they preferred to remain anonymous.

That was not the case, however, with 57-year-old Robinson, who works as a street ice cream vendor on Sao Salvador Square, a well-known bastion of the left in southern Rio de Janeiro, and he had no qualms about speaking with EFE as he stood in line before entering the polling place to cast his ballot.

Wearing a green t-shirt, because he said he wanted “to confuse the opposition” and also carrying with him a “little piece” of the Brazilian flag that he had swiped from certain “rightists,” this self-employed voter called for Brazil to emerge from oppression and misery.

“I want the country to get back to having a dignified life, with freedom of expression, without violence, without … weapons and where the most needy people are well taken care of,” he said.

Rossana, who lives in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood, where Bolsonaro enjoys widespread support, also wanted to make clear to EFE her position and to call attention to herself and her point of view, outfitted as she was from head to toe with Brazilian flags.

“I believe we have to keep going with the government we’ve got because if a corrupt government gets in, a government of lies that took over the country for 16 years, then Brazil is done for and we’re going to become (another) Argentina or Venezuela,” said the 66-year-old widow, referring to the leftists who governed from 2003-2018 under Lula and his successors Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer.

In contrast to Rossana, on Sunday Brazilians in general opted for discretion and dressed without exhibiting the color red (the well-known color of the country’s left) or the “green and yellow” characteristic of the right.

Matters like the devastation of Brazil’s Amazon region – where jungle destruction in a little more than nine months this year has exceeded last year’s total by 12.9 percent and will set a record by year-end – were also mentioned by voters in Rio.

Gilda, a 76-year-old retiree who voted for Lula, said she knows that if the progressive leader wins the balloting he’ll have a “difficult” job ahead that will require “a great deal of unity” so that his administration can offer his country and the world a better future.

“What we’re hoping for is not only for Brazil, it’s for the whole world. Mainly, on the issue of the Amazon which is being completely destroyed by the fires that Bolsonaro is facilitating (to support) lumber sales and agribusiness,” she emphasized.

Despite the fact that election day seems to be transpiring calmly across the country, there are indeed people who fear some kind of conflict if Bolsonaro loses and refuses to recognize the election result, as occurred in the US when Donald Trump was defeated by Joe Biden.

“It scares me a little what could happen because of the other (rightist) party, which could create confusion over the counting of the results,” Gilda said.

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