Brazil’s presidential campaigning begins, stoking fears of political violence

Brazil’s presidential campaigning begins, stoking fears of political violence
A man stands in front of presidential campaign materials depicting Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro on the first day for political campaigns, in Brasilia, Brazil, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is not particularly popular among the population, and he is facing some competition in the upcoming election on October 2. So far, Bolsonaro has been criticized for mishandling the COVID pandemic (more than 680,000 Brazilians died as a result) and his roll-back of environmental protections affecting the Amazon rainforest. His main opposition is left-wing, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), who was in office from 2003 to 2010. Lula’s administration was massively popular, but he was also entangled in a corruption scandal involving bribery and money laundering called “Operation Car Wash."

This week, presidential campaigning officially kicked off in Brazil. Both Bolsonaro and Lula held rival events on Tuesday, and Bolsonaro is trailing behind in polls by around 12 points already. Still, Bolsonaro is closing that gap by offering welfare payments to over 20 million poor families. He’s also pressuring the state-controlled oil company to lower the price of fuel, which is a major concern among Brazilians, who blame Bolsonaro more than the war in Ukraine for inflated prices. Fears of political violence are also rising as Bolsonaro has hinted that he may not leave office if voted out and has repeatedly suggested that electronic voting machines are unreliable. His supporters have also attacked two of Lula’s rallies, and Lula now wears a bulletproof vest in public.

Key comments:

“If [Bolsonaro] keeps growing by consolidating votes from those who in theory should be voting for him, the kind of people who hate Lula more than anything and who were maybe not entirely happy with his government, then that won’t change the game. He needs to take votes from Lula to win; there is no other way," said Vítor Oliveira, a political scientist with the Pulso Público consultancy.

“If there’s anyone possessed by the devil, it’s that Bolsonaro," Lula said during a visit to a Volkswagen plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo.

“It’s impossible not to be moved, returning to this city," Bolsonaro told the crowd in Juiz de Fora, where he was stabbed and nearly killed in 2018. “The memory that I carry with me is of a rebirth. My life was spared by our creator." He has also been quoted as saying on multiple occasions, “Only God can remove me," stirring fears of a Trump-like insurrection should he lose the upcoming election.

“Bolsonaro has tried to build this narrative of divine selection around his presidency … in which surviving the stabbing incident plays a central role," political analyst Adriano Laureno of consulting firm Prospectiva told AFP. “Lula meanwhile always looks to return to Sao Bernardo at key moments in his political trajectory, casting himself as a man of the people."