Gloves off in Brazil as Bolsonaro, Lula launch campaigns - GulfToday

Gloves off in Brazil as Bolsonaro, Lula launch campaigns


Lula da Silva

Ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro traded insults on Tuesday as they launched their campaigns for Brazil’s October elections in dueling rallies highlighting the South American giant’s deep divisions. The two front-runners, who have in reality been campaigning for months, made it official on opening day with events that also showcased their polar-opposite styles.

Bolsonaro, 67, launched his campaign with a rally in Juiz de Fora, the small southeastern city where an attacker stabbed and nearly killed him during his 2018 campaign — cementing his image in the minds of die-hard supporters as their “Messias,” or Messiah, his middle name. “This is where I was reborn... This is where the creator saved my life so I could give my best for our nation as president,” an emotional Bolsonaro told cheering supporters packed into the street where he was stabbed by a man later deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.

Hitting hard on the themes of Christianity and family values, Bolsonaro acknowledged Brazil’s “serious problems.” But the ex-army captain called himself the best candidate to lead the country, warning his opponent’s return would be a “step backwards” and usher in “communism” and “gender ideology.”

Bolsonaro’s image as a saviour swooping in to rough up the political establishment has suffered as he has lurched through a series of crises, from the coronavirus pandemic — which he insistently downplayed, even as Brazil’s death toll surged — to soaring inflation that is hurting Brazilian families. The president drew his loudest cheers when he handed the mic to beaming, telegenic First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro, a devout Evangelical Christian who led the crowd in prayer and took her own digs at Lula. “Our enemy just wants to steal, deceive and destroy,” she said. Draped in the Brazilian flag, 50-year-old teacher Jaqueline Lopes said she was voting for Bolsonaro to “continue the clean-up that started four years ago.” “I want the left to be eradicated from this country,” said Lopes, who made the three-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro to attend the rally. Lula meanwhile launched his campaign with a visit to a Volkswagen plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the industrial heartland of Sao Paulo state where the 76-year-old launched his political career as a union leader in the 1970s. “I’m returning so we can take our country back,” he said in his trademark gravelly voice, riling up the crowd with a fiery speech. Slamming Bolsonaro as a “bogus, genocidal president,” he condemned the “lies” he said the incumbent’s camp was spreading about him in a bid to win the powerful Evangelical vote — an estimated 31 percent of Brazil’s 213 million people. “If anyone is possessed by the devil, it’s Bolsonaro,” he said. Lula currently leads with 44 per cent of the vote to 32 per cent for Bolsonaro, according to the latest poll from the Ipec institute, published on Monday. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of valid votes in the October 2 election, a runoff will be held on October 30. Brazil has been torn in a two-way race since March last year, when the Supreme Court annulled a controversial corruption conviction that had sent Lula to jail and sidelined him from politics. The ex-president (2003-2010) left office as the most popular leader in Brazilian history, after presiding over an economic boom that helped lift some 30 million people from poverty.

But he fell spectacularly from grace when he was convicted in Brazil’s sprawling “Car Wash” scandal. Lula, who denies wrongdoing, calls the case a trumped-up bid to topple his legacy — which he is now clearly out to restore. “Lula is the Brazilian people’s hope for a better life,” said 48-year-old welder Mauricio Souza, who was at the leftist’s rally belting out songs on his trumpet. Many Brazilians fear if Bolsonaro loses he will follow in the footsteps of his political role model, former US president Donald Trump, and try to fight the result.

Agence France-Presse

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