Brazil counting votes in historic race of Lula vs Bolsonaro
A woman holds a Brazilian flag and another with the image of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for another term, after general election polls closed in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ton Molina)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s electoral authority was tallying votes Sunday night in a highly polarised election that could determine if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office for another four years.

The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political nemesis, leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. There are nine other candidates, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva. With 20.3 per cent of votes counted, Bolsonaro had 47.9 per cent, ahead of da Silva with 43.3 per cent.

Recent opinion polls have given da Silva a commanding lead — the last Datafolha survey published Saturday found a 50 per cent to 36 per cent advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of two percentage points.

Fernanda Reznik, a 48-year-old health worker, wore a red T-shirt — a color associated with da Silva’s Workers’ Party — to vote in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana neighborhood, where pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators often congregate, and had been waiting in line for 40 minutes.

“I’ll wait three hours if I have to!” said Reznik, who no longer bothers talking politics with neighbors who favor Bolsonaro. “This year the election is more important, because we already went through four years of Bolsonaro and today we can make a difference and give this country another direction.”

Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticised handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.

Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader in capital Brasilia, sported the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have coopted for demonstrations. Melo said he is once again voting for Bolsonaro, who met his expectations, and he doesn’t believe the surveys that show him trailing.

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to possess evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the electoral authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as September 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “abnormal.”

Da Silva, 76, was once a metal worker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building an extensive social welfare programme during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.

But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives.

Da Silva’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months’ imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later annulled da Silva’s convictions on grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.

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