Sao Paulo, Aug 28 (EFE).- Corruption accusations and social assistance programs for the poor took up center stage in the first debate Sunday between the candidates for the Oct. 2 presidential elections in Brazil.
The televised debate took place between the six main candidates, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who are leading the polls and featured in the most tense clashes of the night.
Due to the large number of candidates, there were only two direct exchanges between Lula and Bolsonaro, the first centered around corruption and the second, on subsidy programs for the poorest, in addition to an altercation in the final remarks.
Bolsonaro brought up the corruption cases uncovered in Lula’s government, which he described as “the most corrupt in the history of Brazil” and referred to the opposition leader as an “ex-convict” on two occasions.
The president touched upon the almost two years that Lula spent in prison for two corruption convictions, which were annulled in 2021 due to irregularities in the proceedings against him.
Lula said he was “much cleaner” than Bolsonaro because he was “tried and declared innocent by the Supreme Court and the UN” and asserted that he was “only imprisoned” for political reasons, so that Bolsonaro could win the elections.
Other candidates also recalled Lula’s Workers’ Party’s corruption while also pointing out alleged irregularities in the current administration, specifically an attempt to siphon off public money in the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines.
Candidate Ciro Gomes, who was a minister in Lula’s first government, said he distanced himself from the Workers’ Party “because Lula allowed himself to be corrupted.”
The fight against hunger, which affects 33 million people in Brazil, led to another acrimonious exchange between Lula and Bolsonaro, on account of income distribution programs.
Bolsonaro promised to maintain the subsidies that his government began giving to the poor in August in the middle of the electoral campaign and Lula accused him of “lying,” saying that the assistance is not included in the general budget for 2023.
A turning point in the debate was a personal attack by Bolsonaro on a journalist for a question she asked another candidate about Covid-19 vaccines.
Bolsonaro, known for his sexist remarks, told Vera Magalhaes that she was a “disgrace to journalism” and insinuated that she had a “passion” for him.
These remarks led several candidates to ask the far-right leader to be respectful to women.
In his final speech, Bolsonaro highlighted Lula’s political affinities with other Latin American leftist leaders, claiming that he would implement the same policies in Brazil.
“The ex-convict supported Chávez, he supported Maduro. And look how Venezuela is,” said Bolsonaro, who also criticized the economic situation in Argentina, led by Alberto Fernandez.
He added that Lula supported Gabriel Boric in Chile, who “set fire to the metro,” Gustavo Petro in Colombia, “who wants to free drugs” and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, “who arrests priests and persecutes nuns.”
Bolsonaro signed off with his campaign’s slogan “God, homeland, family and freedom”, while Lula alluded to his experience of governance and said, “I know what I did, I know what I am going to do and that is why I do not resort to easy promises.”
All the polls show a highly polarized scenario between Lula, who heads a coalition of ten progressive parties, and Bolsonaro, the leader of the far right.
Polls show Lula as favorite to win the election, with about 45 percent of voter support, compared to 30 percent for Bolsonaro. EFE