Complaints about voter coercion soar in lead-up to Brazil runoff

By Carlos Meneses

Sao Paulo, Oct 26 (EFE).- “If Lula wins, there’ll be layoffs.”

Election-related threats of that nature have poured in by the hundreds at prosecutor’s offices in the lead-up to Brazil’s Oct. 30 presidential runoff, in which rightist incumbent Jair Bolsonaro will face off against leftist former head of state and frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The country’s extreme political polarization is leading to numerous allegations of workplace abuse, with bosses purportedly trying to intimidate their employees into voting a certain way or not exercising their right as citizens.

The federal labor prosecutor’s office (MPT) has received 1,134 complaints through Tuesday about employers seeking to influence their workers’ vote, compared to 98 four years ago when Bolsonaro was elected.

Unions also are receiving piles of anonymous complaints from workers in the finals days of the campaign.

Efe has gained access to 200 of them, practically all of which pertain to attempts by management to intimidate staff into voting for Bolsonaro, a retired army captain.

The complaints have come from a variety of workplaces: hospitals, schools, factories, farm cooperatives, restaurants, supermarkets and media outlets. The alleged abuses have occurred at small companies and multinationals alike, as well as public institutions.

“That increase is happening in all regions of Brazil,” the MPT’s top prosecutor, Jose de Lima Ramos Pereira, told Efe by phone.

“Electoral harassment is being practiced like it were something normal. The employers even record it and upload it to social media,” he said.

Employers have threatened to fire workers or shut down their businesses, although in other cases they have offered to pay bonuses of up to $100 and provide free food, the complaints allege.

“The boss said that if Lula wins he won’t plant any more and will fire everyone,” read one complaint from a farm in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

In Sao Paulo, a worker at a nutritional supplements company says the owner “forced all of them to sing” the Brazilian national anthem.

“He says if Bolsonaro doesn’t win, he’ll close the company.

“The boss offered money and a barbecue if we voted for Bolsonaro (in the first round). Now he’s saying he’ll fire 50 percent of the staff if Lula wins the runoff,” read another complaint from a supermarket in Parana, a southern state with one of the highest number of cases.

In the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, the manager of a store that is part of retail chain has demanded that all of his workers stay home on election day and show proof of the fine they receive for not casting a ballot.

Since voting is mandatory in Brazil, those who fail to do so are assessed a small penalty.

Alvaro Dias, the mayor of Natal, Rio Grande do Norte’s capital, has gone a step farther.

According to the CUT labor federation, Dias met with business leaders last week to advise them on how to convince their workers to vote for Bolsonaro.

In leaked audios from the meeting, Dias recommended sharing “interesting, believable news” via WhatsApp or on the company’s notice board that lead people to believe they could lose their jobs with Lula in power.

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