By Carlos A. Moreno
Rio de Janeiro, Sep 26 (EFE).- Ultrarightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for reelection, and progressive former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is favored to win next Sunday’s presidential balloting, are the key players in the most polarized elections in Brazilian history.
Lula has been leading in all the voter surveys for the past several months with about 47 percent of the prospective vote and he is calling on “tactical votes” to try and get over the 50 percent threshold for a win in the first round.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro, with about 31 percent support, is fighting to reduce the gap separating them and keep Lula below 50 percent, which would force a runoff on Oct. 30.
Both men are vying for the presidency amid a sharply divided Brazil and recent polls make clear that this polarization, in effect, excludes any other candidate from the running. Thus, Lula and Bolsonaro are not fighting for the approximately 4 percent of undecided voters but rather the “tactical votes” of citizens who don’t want to waste their votes on other candidates who – in all – have about 13 percent support.
“I believe that these are the most polarized elections since Brazil recovered its democracy (in 1985). No doubt it’s the election with the most concentrated forces,” analyst Carolina Almeida de Paula, a researcher at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ), told EFE.
She said, however, that the polarization doesn’t mean that the two candidates are at the extreme ends of the political spectrum.
“We know that one side, yes, is extreme, the extreme right of Bolsonaro, but Lula cannot be considered on the leftist extreme. They represent two conglomerated forces that created two groups that they are polarizing,” she said.
That division is also reflected in the “rejection” figures, meaning that while about 50 percent of voters say that they would not vote for Bolsonaro under any condition, 38 percent say the same about Lula.
Lula’s strategy in the final leg of the campaign has been to seek the votes of labor leader Ciro Gomez (7 percent support), the candidate who received the third most votes in the 2018 presidential election, and of Simone Tebet (5 percent), who represents the main centrist forces.
The surveys indicate that Lula has a chance to garner more than half the tactical votes in the first round and thus guarantee his own election, but the socialist leader knows that to do that he needs the tactical votes of Gomes and Tebet supporters.
Lula not only selected as his running mate former Sao Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin, a center-right politician who had been his rival in more than one past presidential election, but he also has edged closer to centrist figures from whom he had distanced himself in the past like former presidential candidates Marina Silva and Henrique Meirelles.
Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has softened his historically radical positions, has moved closer to the center and has even apologized for some of his most objectionable actions and statements.
The current polarization has created tensions and an edgy environment that will only settle down over time, analysts say.
Two weeks ago, a Bolsonaro follower knifed a Lula sympathizer to death after a political argument. In July, a prison guard who was also a Bolsonaro partisan shot one of the socialist’s supporters to death.
The opposition candidates attribute the increase in violence to the hate-filled and intolerant discourse being promoted by ultrarightist groups supporting Bolsonaro.
According to a recent voter survey, 67.5 percent of Brazilians fear being attacked for their political positions and 3.2 percent said they have been threatened for that reason within the past month.
Political scientist Marco Antonio Carvalho Teixeira and Almeida de Paula agree that the time needed for polarization and radicalization to be overcome will depend on the speed and manner in which the loser of the presidential vote admits his defeat.
Bolsonaro, who continues to insist – without any evidence – that the Brazilian electoral system is faulty and riven with fraud, has said that he will only recognize his potential defeat if the “elections are clean,” thus injecting more uncertainty into the mix and this has made the opposition believe that he is preparing the ground for declaring the vote to be fraudulent. If he loses, that is.
According to Almeida de Paula, it is to be hoped that political normalcy will be quickly recovered because the centrist political forces who today support Bolsonaro are moving closer to Lula, whom they have supported in the past.