Election campaigns for the Brazilian presidency officially kicked off on Tuesday, with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beating current president Jair Bolsonaro in voting intention polls, and amid growing concern about political violence and threats to democracy.
Lula, whose two-term presidency ran from 2003 to 2010, has already started wearing an armored vest for his public appearances. He was scheduled to give a speech at an engine factory on Tuesday morning, but was asked by federal police to cancel the event due to security concerns, according to his campaign. Instead of the motor factory, the leftist politician launched his seventh presidential bid at the Volkswagen plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a manufacturing city outside Sao Paulo where he rose to fame as a union leader in the decade. from 1970.
Bolsonaro revisited the place in the city of Juiz de Fora where he was stabbed by a mentally ill man in the 2018 campaign. He arrived on a motorcycle surrounded by security guards and wearing an armored vest, unlike in 2018, when he got between the crowd without any protection.
Creomar de Souza, founder of the political risk consultancy Dharma Politics, told The Associated Press that Lula’s visit to the auto plant is typical of Brazilian symbolism, evoking nostalgia for his first run for president in 1989 and alluding to his legacy. De Souza added that he envisions candidates attacking each other rather than presenting proposals to voters.
“I want these elections to end as soon as possible with Lula winning them, so there are less risks of violence and more conversations about the future,” Vanderlei Cláudio, a 32-year-old metalworker, said at the event.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s return to the site where he was stabbed is an attempt to evoke the same image of an independent candidate that saw the seven-term lawmaker win in 2018, said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio State University. of janeiro.
“For Bolsonaro, this is the image of himself as a rebellious candidate and against the system, and the attack against him was a central piece of that narrative,” Santoro said. “For him and his supporters, the man who stabbed him was not a ‘lone wolf,’ but part of a political elite conspiracy against Bolsonaro,” he added.
Elections in Latin America’s largest democracy are a titan battle, as the rest of the candidates lag far behind. Both have addressed their supporters for months, although they are not allowed by the electoral authority to solicit votes or broadcast advertisements. Until now, no debate between Lula and Bolsonaro has been scheduled.
“It is impossible not to get excited when you return to this city,” Bolsonaro told the crowd in Juiz de Fora, where people were searched before passing through metal barriers to approach the stage where the president met. “The memory I carry with me is of a rebirth. My life was spared by our creator.”
After his speech, Bolsonaro hurried out, standing in the back of a truck, waving to the crowd, surrounded by security personnel.
Despite the 2018 attack on Bolsonaro, recent events have sparked fears that his supporters could provoke incidents. Earlier in the year, it turned out that Bolsonaro surrounded Lula’s car to shout insults at him, and in July, one of them killed a local official from the Workers’ Party, to which Lula belongs, in the city of Foz do Iguacu.
Lula supporters have also come under attack: At a rally in June, a drone sprayed a crowd with a foul-smelling liquid, and at another event last month, a man detonated a homemade explosive containing feces. In both incidents, the attackers were Bolsonaro supporters, according to social media posts reviewed by the AP.
“Lula canceled his first event for security reasons, and that kind of thing has taken over all sides. I don’t think Bolsonaro runs the same risk, but he was stabbed last time,” commented Carlos Melo, a political science professor at the Insper University of Sao Paulo. “These terrible events are now part of the Brazilian elections, and that matters,” he added.
Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of firearms, and in his presidency he has relaxed restrictions, allowing his supporters to acquire weapons and ammunition. At his candidacy launch on July 24, he called for his decision to swear to give their lives for freedom, and has repeatedly called the race a fight of good against evil. Her wife, Michelle, said at the same event that the presidential palace had been consecrated to demons before her husband took office.
In Sao Bernardo do Campo, Lula listed the failures of the Bolsonaro government during the COVID-19 pandemic — which, according to a Senate investigation, contributed to the second highest number of deaths in the world — and then said: “If there is someone possessed by the Devil , is that Bolsonaro”.
Those probably from Bolsonaro often bring up Lula’s 580 days in prison after being found guilty of corruption and money laundering. Those convictions left Lula out of the 2018 race and cleared the way for Bolsonaro. They were subsequently annulled; first on procedural grounds by the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court, which later ruled that the judge had been biased and had colluded with prosecutors.
Lagging behind in the polls again, the former army general has raised concerns that he could reject the results if he loses the October election. The far-right politician has raised unfounded doubts about the country’s electronic voting system, which has been in use since 1996, especially in a meeting he convened with foreign diplomats. His insistence occurred last week in the reaction of hundreds of companies and more than a million Brazilians who signed a couple of letters demanding that the country’s democratic institutions be respected.
When Bolsonaro’s candidacy was granted, he called on his supporters to flood the streets for celebrations on September 7, when Independence Day is celebrated. On that date last year, they declared before dozens of miles of select that only God can remove him from power. Analysts have repeatedly expressed concern that he is laying the groundwork to follow the lead of former US President Donald Trump and try to cling to power.
Human Rights Watch said Monday that the campaign “is likely to be a critical test for democracy and the rule of law in the country and in Latin America.”
“The candidates must condemn political violence and ask their decision-makers to respect the right of Brazilians to peacefully elect their representatives and stand for election without fear,” he said.