By Maria Angelica Troncoso
Rio de Janeiro, Oct 16 (EFE).- Two weeks out from Brazil’s presidential runoff election, mutual campaign attacks by progressive Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and ultrarightist Jair Bolsonaro have intensified focusing on God and corruption in an “anything goes” final sprint to garner voter support.
“The church is not a (political) lever!” shouted Lula at a campaign rally in Rio de Janeiro earlier this week, while Bolsonaro declared that “Lula is going back to prison” in Recife a few hours later.
Accusing each other of being an atheist, a militant, genocidal devils and a former jailbird, the insults are flying fast and furious between the two candidates – Lula aspiring to win a third non-consecutive term as president and Bolsonaro eager to win reelection – in a race where verbally annihilating the contender seems to be each man’s plan due to the closeness of their contest in the latest voter surveys.
In the most recent poll, released Friday by Datafolha – the most widely trusted polling outfit in Brazil – the result is virtually identical to what voters said with their ballots two weeks ago in the first round: the socialist former labor leader garnered 49 percent and the current president 44 percent among those saying they were likely to cast ballots in the runoff.
Both Bolsonaro and the progressive leader have taken to the streets, to television and to the social networks seeking support in the run-up to the decisive Oct. 30 contest.
The aim is to attack their opponent’s weak points and fill the electoral space with incendiary messages while their governing platforms are scarcely being discussed, or even noticed.
Bolsonaro wastes no chance to remind people that Lula spent almost 600 days behind bars after being convicted of corruption and that, although he was acquitted in more than 20 court cases, he never was absolved of his two convictions, which were nullified by the judiciary on procedural grounds.
Lula, in turn, constantly brings up the devastation of the Amazon region and the lack of empathy shown by Bolsonaro during the Covid pandemic, and he also criticized the president for being a militant and accuses him of surrounding himself with advisors and politicians who are behind bars for murder.
One of Bolsonaro’s TV ads says, reminding people that Lula was in prison, that the leftist said “anyone who backs a bandit is an accomplice.”
Lula’s campaign, meanwhile, was using in its own ads part of an interview Bolsonaro gave to The New York Times in 2016 in which he spoke about cannibalism in an indigenous community.
Both ads were withdrawn from the airwaves on the orders of election authorities for taking remarks out of context.
Bolsonaro has also upped his use of religion during this phase of his campaign, making use of his strong links to evangelical Christians and taking advantage of Catholic devotion to fish for votes.
The current president has based his campaign rhetoric on conservative ideals defending the “traditional family” and rejecting abortion, illegal drugs and gender equality, which – he claims – are “evil” and will be brought back into the forefront of public policy if Lula is elected.
He also declares that if Lula wins “corruption will return.”
But that same sword has proved to be two-edged, with Lula emphasizing Bolsonaro’s dubious use of public funds during the Covid pandemic, using cash to buy more than 50 real estate properties, reminding people of the investigations that have tainted the president’s sons and even the links the president’s mother and the grandmother of his wife Michelle had in the past with drug trafficking.