Voters head to the polls to decide between Bolsonaro and Lula after contentious election campaign

Opinion polls on the eve of the ballot gave Lula a lead of between four and eight percentage points

Brazilians head to the polls on Sunday in their most important election for years, with leftist challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva the slight favourite to put an end to four years of destructive government by the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Opinion polls on the eve of the ballot gave Lula, as the Workers’ Party candidate is known, a lead of between four and eight percentage points.

However, polls before the first round underestimated the incumbent’s numbers and there is no guarantee he will not spring a surprise and win another four years in power.

The two candidates slugged it out in a desperate final debate on Friday night that started off with 30 minutes of name calling and improved little over the subsequent two hours.


“Bolsonaro has not made one proposal for the future of Brazil,” Simone Tebet, who placed third in the first round and is now a Lula backer, said about the president’s persistent attacks. “He prefers to use the debate to provoke and accuse. It’s the narrative of the defeated.”

Lula has all the momentum after a week dominated by setbacks, both prosaic and dramatic, for the populist incumbent.

Last Sunday, one of his most rabid backers threw grenades at police officers and shot at their cars when they went to arrest him for breaking the rules of his parole.

Bolsonaro denied any links to the man, former congressman Roberto Jefferson, but his claims were quickly scotched as photos of the two men were shared widely online.

Bolsonaro’s persistent lying – he is accused of spreading fake news and misinformation – brought him another setback later in the week, when the supreme electoral court, the body that oversees elections in Brazil, gave Lula time to respond to the falsehoods.

The decision meant Lula had significantly more TV and radio spots during the last week of the campaign.

A Lula victory would cap one of the most remarkable comebacks in political history.

A former union leader who lost three presidential elections before finally winning in 2002, the now 77-year-old led the country for eight years before leaving office with approval ratings more than 80 per cent.

Vote and we are going to fix the country. And you are going to be happy again

But his hand-picked successor was impeached and a wide-ranging corruption scandal led to the trial and jailing of several senior Workers’ Party officials. Lula himself spent almost two years in prison before his conviction was annulled.

Since then he has fought tirelessly against an opponent who will go down in history as much for the way he has tarnished Brazil’s highest office than for any major policy achievements.

Bolsonaro frequently belittled opponents and his botched handling of the pandemic ended with almost 700,000 deaths in Brazil.

Deforestation in the Amazon rose to a 15-year high and a scandal is brewing over his creation of a “secret budget” that gives money to political allies with little transparency or oversight.

In the debate he pointed out that Brazil’s homicide rate fell under his watch and promised to increase the minimum salary – an important measure in Brazil – by 15 per cent.

Lula, however, reminded voters that his first two terms between 2003-2011 were a success and promised voters more of the same.

“Turn out to vote on the 30th,” he said. “Vote and we are going to fix the country. And you are going to be happy again.” – Guardian