SAO PAULO, Brazil - While Brazil’s perennial leftist leader Lula da Silva may enjoy the support of the majority of Brazil’s artistic community, incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro scored a major coup this week, receiving a public endorsement from the nation’s biggest soccer star, Neymar.
In a video posted to Twitter, the goal-scoring legend danced and sang along to a Bolsonaro campaign jingle, proclaiming, "Vote, vote, and confirm, 22 is Bolsonaro." The right-wing candidate whose electoral number for voting is 22, subsequently returned the favor with a visit to the Neymar Foundation in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo. Yet, even the backing of the great Neymar may not be enough to save Bolsonaro’s lagging campaign.
A tense nation gathered around their television screens on Thursday night to watch the final presidential debate, on television channel Globo, which hosts many of Brazil’s most popular telenovelas. Indeed, the debate commenced at the odd time slot of 10:30 pm and stretched until 2 in the morning, directly following Pantanal, a Brazilian soap opera.
The debate featured a unique and engaging format somewhat resembling a game show, in which various permutations of candidates and questions were drawn from glass bowls, and two candidates at a time confronted each other face-to-face in three-minute increments.
Some of the tensest moments occurred when one of the seven presidential candidates, Soraya Thronicke, asked Bolsonaro point-blank whether he had plans to stage a coup in the event of an electoral loss.
Bolsonaro dodged the question, saying, "Well, that’s not the point," before moving on to allege that former ally Thronicke owed her Senate seat to his coattails.
The issue of Bolsonaro’s potential refusal to accept the election results is the elephant in the room. He has given conflicting statements on the topic, but in widely reported remarks in mid-September, he did appear to acknowledge the possibility of losing his re-election bid, which appears increasingly likely if the polls are to be believed.
"If it's God's will, I'll continue ... if not, I'll pass the (presidential) sash and retire," Bolsonaro stated in a Christian podcast. "At my age, I have nothing left to do here on Earth if my journey in politics ends on December 31."
It is a departure from more aggressive statements he made in late August, when he famously declared, "I have three alternatives for my future: being arrested, killed or victory."
While it is likely that a Bolsonaro loss will be greeted by street protests and accusations of electoral fraud by some of the ex-army captain’s raucous supporters, it appears very unlikely that Brazil’s military forces would intervene in some kind of coup attempt to keep Bolsonaro in power.
Nycollas Liberato, president of Brazil Students for Liberty and himself a former cadet at the Agulhas Negras Military Academy (the Brazilian equivalent of West Point), echoes that view, noting, "Both of their groups of supporters (Bolsonaro and Lula) have an extremely aggressive and intolerant policy towards those who disagree with them … nevertheless, I do not believe Brazil is at risk of a post-election democratic rupture. The armed forces … are behaving in an exemplary manner and are not getting involved in dubious political statements."
Both camps view the other candidate as a serious threat.
Brazilians generally concede that Lula is corrupt, but they excuse it by arguing that all politicians are corrupt in the country; they view Lula as something of a jolly Robin Hood figure, redistributing resources to the poor.
Political analyst Flavio Morgenstern argues, "Lula has a very strong ideological appeal in a country contaminated by socialist ideas," and adds, "he is the only character with charisma on the left, due to his already mythical past."
That past troubles some. Political analyst Cristian Derosa argues: "If Lula is elected, the result will be the return of the strengthening of the Sao Paulo Forum bloc, an entity created by Lula and Fidel Castro to maintain the power of the left in Latin America."
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"In this project … Brazil has the role of main financier. During their administrations, Lula and [ex-president] Dilma carried out many projects in Venezuela and Cuba, such as ports and hydroelectric plants."
Yet, Lula will likely not seek major changes that would jeopardize current U.S.-Brazil relations.
Derosa argues, "the political forces represented by Lula are anti-American by definition," yet he notes that, "Lula is skilled in negotiations and has always maintained a posture of dialoguing with everyone. He wouldn't make a trade break, but he will certainly prefer multilateral relations … he would hardly break with the U.S., even more so while the United States is governed by the Democratic Party."
Morgenstern adds that, "with Biden, Lula would have an ally with some tension … his interest (in the U.S.) has always been purely economic," but "Lula’s friends are enemies of even the American left … the communist dictatorships of Latin America, China, Russia, the Palestinian Authority."
As to why Lula’s close association with dictatorships has never been wielded against him in Brazil, Morgenstern sees a significant difference between parties in Brazil and elsewhere: "The Brazilian ideological left really believes that ‘social inequality’ is the biggest problem in the universe, so it is a declared fan of dictatorships (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua), unlike the American left."
Brazilians head to the polls on October 2 and will have a second round on October 30 if no candidate wins 50%.