Brazil counts votes in historic presidential race


Fernanda Reznik, a 48-year-old healthcare 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 protesters are gathering often, and waited in line for 40 minutes.

« I’ll wait three hours if necessary! » said Reznik, who no longer bothers to talk politics with pro-Bolsonaro neighbors. « This year the election is more important, because we have already gone through four years of Bolsonaro and today we can make a difference and give another direction to this country. »

Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by inflammatory rhetoric, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

But he has built a dedicated base by championing conservative values, pushing back against political correctness and portraying himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies he says undermine individual freedoms and produce economic turmoil.

Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader from the capital Brasilia, sported the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters co-opted for protests. Melo said he was voting for Bolsonaro again, who lived up to his expectations, and he doesn’t believe polls that show him trailing.

“Polls can be manipulated. They are all owned by companies with interests,” he said.

A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher social benefits. Like many of its Latin American neighbors struggling with high inflation and large numbers of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a political shift to the left.

Da Silva could win in the first round, without needing a second round on October 30, if he gets more than 50% of the valid votes, which excludes invalid and blank ballots.

An outright victory for da Silva would highlight Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count. He has repeatedly questioned the reliability not only of opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he laid the groundwork for dismissing the results.

At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the election 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 « wrong. »

Da Silva, 76, was once a steelworker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with establishing an extensive social welfare program during his tenure from 2003 to 2010 that helped bring in tens of millions of people in the middle class.

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

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

Social worker Nadja Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but since 2018 she has voted for Bolsonaro.

“Unfortunately, the Workers’ Party disappointed us. It promised to be different,” she said in Brasilia.

Others, like Marialva Pereira, are more lenient. She said she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.

“I didn’t like the scandals of his first administration, I never voted for the Workers’ Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unfairly imprisoned and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that it makes everyone better,” Pereira, 47, said.

Speaking after voting in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing hub of Sao Paulo state where he was a labor leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and unable to vote.

« I want to try to get the country back to normality, to try to get this country to take care of its people again, » he told reporters.

Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the military. He turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise military pay. During his seven terms as a fringe legislator in the lower house of Congress, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two decades of military dictatorship.

His overtures to the armed forces raised fears that his possible rejection of the election results would be backed by senior brass.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts from right-wing foreign politicians, including former US President Donald Trump, who called on Brazilians to vote for him. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for the strengthening of bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also congratulated him.

After voting on Sunday morning, Bolsonaro told reporters that « clean elections must be respected » and that the first round would be decisive. When asked if he would respect the results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

Leda Wasem, 68, had no doubts that Bolsonaro would not only be re-elected, but win in the first round. Wearing a national football team jersey at a polling station in downtown Curitiba, the estate agent said da Silva’s possible victory could only have one explanation: fraud.

“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person supporting Lula,” she said.


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