Lula tries to woo Brazilian Evangelicals away from Bolsonaro

São Gonçalo, Brazil, Sep 9 (EFE).- Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva brought his campaign for a third term to this Rio de Janeiro suburb on Friday in pursuit of support from Evangelicals, who played a significant role in propelling Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency in 2018.

Four years ago, more than 67 percent of the voters in heavily Evangelical São Gonçalo backed rightist Bolsonaro, a fierce opponent of abortion and LGBT rights who espouses “family values.”

But Lula, leader of the center-left Workers Party, is unwilling to write off the votes of Brazil’s burgeoning Evangelical community and he managed to draw a large, enthusiastic crowd.

Speaking from a stage where he was joined by dozens of Evangelical pastors, the 76-year-old cancer survivor who got his start in politics as a leader of the steelworkers union battling the 1964-1985 military regime stressed his own religious faith.

“If there is a Brazilian who doesn’t need to prove he believes in God, that Brazilian is me. I would not have gotten to where I was if not for the hand of God guiding my steps,” Lula said.

“I am sure that up there, He will tell me: Lula, take care of this nation,” he added.

Responding to disinformation from the Bolsonaro campaign accusing him of planning to close the churches if he wins the Oct. 2 election, Lula pointed to the steps he took to protect religious freedom during his 2003-2011 tenure as head of state.

“I learned that the state should not have religion, should not have a church, it should guarantee the functioning and the freedom of many churches,” he said.

Lula, leading Bolsonaro in the polls by 13 percentage points, said that Brazil cannot continue to be governed by a president who “loves to lie.”

He also suggested that Bolsonaro’s public expressions of religiosity are driven by political calculations.

“Five times I was a candidate (for president) and I never went to a church – to a religious event – to capture votes. One goes to church to tend to his or her faith,” Lula said.

While half of Brazilians still consider themselves Catholics, Evangelicals have come to represent 30 percent of the population and a recent survey by pollster Datafolha shows Bolsonaro with an advantage of 48 percent to 32 percent over Lula among people who identify as Evangelical.

Bolsonaro, a professed admirer of the military regime, claims to be leading a crusade of “good against evil” and frequently warns of bad consequences if Lula returns to power. EFE as/dr

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