Brazil Braces for a Fierce Runoff Presidential Election: Peoples Dispatch

As presidential candidates Lula da Silva and Jair Bolsonaro prepare for the second round of Brazil’s October 30 elections, tensions are high across the country. The campaign has intensified and the already existing polarization of society is deepening. While the campaign for the first round was far less vituperative and focused mainly on programs and pledges, the build-up to the second round has already seen both campaigns go on the offensive.

With just over two weeks to go before the historic run-off election, we look at key areas of contention and debate.

The dispute over the truth

Brazil’s 2018 elections have gone down in history because of the extent to which deliberately fabricated, sensationalized and untrue facts, known as “fake news”, were spread by groups associated with Bolsonaro’s campaign. The intensity and speed at which this fake news spread via Whatsapp and social media platforms was a key factor in his victory. In 2018, some of the favorite fake news stories were claims that the e-voting system was unreliable and fraudulent, alleged corruption and criminality within the Workers’ Party (PT), its “links” to illegal elements , how PT candidate Fernando Haddad apparently planned to force homosexuality on children, and the absurd allegation that when he was Minister of Education he distributed “gay kits” in primary schools. Messages containing these demands reached thousands of WhatsApp groups in the weeks leading up to the election.

The lies prevalent in the 2018 election have since been debunked and the mechanisms used for this operation have been studied as an ongoing global threat to democracy in the digital age.

In these elections, especially after the first round, the barrage of fake news returned to try to sway voters, especially the 21% who abstained in the first round. Articles and videos are circulating about Lula’s so-called plan to shut down churches, pro-abortion stance, promoting drug use among young people, attacking ‘Brazilian family’ and on his worship of Satan. Social media platforms have become constant battlegrounds in a standoff as campaigns push these messages and demystify them.

One of the most common lines of attack against Lula is the claim that he is a convicted criminal and thief, and has committed acts of corruption. These allegations cite as evidence the fact that he spent 580 days in prison. They conveniently omit the fact that Lula has been erased of all costs and convictions as it was ruled that former judge and former member of Bolsonaro’s government, Sergio Moro, had clear political motivations for these convictions.

Lula’s “criminality” is extended to accuse him of being involved in organized crime and drug trafficking. More recently, an audio recording of an alleged conversation between two leaders of the CCP (Primeiro Comando da Capital, one of the biggest gangs in Brazil) declaring that Lula is a better president for organized crime was published on the platforms of Bolsonaro’s social media. In July, when similar fake news about the relationship between the PT and the CCP was released, the party issued a statement stating that there was no connection between the two entities and pointed out that expanding Bolsonaro’s access to gun ownership helps the group gain access to more weapons.

Racism and classism

In the first round of the October 2 elections, the region that showed the highest level of support for the PT candidate was the Northeast. Lula won the region made up of the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí and Rio Grande do Norte, by 66.7% against 27% for Bolsonaro. In the state of Piauí, Lula won an overwhelming majority of 74.3% of the vote. The region has been a historical stronghold of the PT and more specifically of Lula, due to the impact of his social and economic policies which aimed to reverse the historical oppression and exclusion of the region. The Northeast is predominantly black and was the focal point of agricultural production during the period of slavery in Brazil, which has lasting legacies today as evidenced by its economic underdevelopment and institutional racism.

Bolsonaro’s racist and anti-poor policies and rhetoric have been overwhelmingly rejected by people in the Northeast since his presidential campaign in 2018.

After this year’s first round, Bolsonaro staged a series of campaign activities there to try to win some votes, but mostly he and his supporters made racist and classist comments criticizing voters there.

In a meeting with 200 allied parliamentarians on October 6 at the president’s official residence, the Palácio da Alvorada, Bolsonaro said, “Lula won in the 9 out of 10 states with the highest illiteracy rates. Do you know what states these are? In our Northeast, and it is not only the high rate of illiteracy that is of most concern in these states. Other economic indicators are also low in the region, as these northeastern states have been administered by the PT for 20 years.

On social media, comments from Bolsonaro’s base were even more hateful and prejudiced.

An influencer supporting Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Constantino, tweeted a map of Brazil on election night with the Northeast region painted red and writing “Southern Cuba”. He wrote: “We have a clear conclusion in these elections: the part of the country that receives the most [government aid] decides which part of the country produces most of the GDP.

Economic game

The devastating economic crisis in Brazil is impossible to ignore. The campaign in support of Lula has always focused on how the Brazilian economy collapsed in the period following Dilma’s impeachment due to the neoliberal economic policies adopted by Michel Temer and the current president and candidate. Jair Bolsonaro. The promise that Lula will not only create social programs for the most vulnerable to end poverty and hunger, but also boost GDP and the value of the currency, the real, is the cornerstone of his campaign.

Due to the palpable economic deterioration, Bolsonaro was also forced to respond with a counterattack. Much of this response has focused on spreading the same misinformation that Lula and the PT are thieves and corrupt criminals and that the current economic crisis is the result.

However, Bolsonaro has also strategically distributed economic aid to low-income families through his Auxilio Brasil program to coincide with election season and even increased the amount they receive. It should be noted that programs such as Bolsa Familia and other economic aid programs created under the PT governments that gave much more help to families have been cut.

On social media, Bolsonaro and his allies take credit whenever the price of meat or gasoline drops.

Polls

Voters’ intention polls in Brazil have come under heavy criticism after first-round results turned out to be very different from what many had predicted. Most polls predicted on average that Lula would get around 46-48%, which he did, but the majority said Bolsonaro would get no more than 35% of the vote when he got 43%.

That being said, they continue to play a key role in campaign strategies and key targets. The Atlas Intel poll released on October 13 predicts that Lula will get 52.4% of valid votes and Bolsonaro 47.6%, while in total votes Lula has 51.1% and Bolsonaro 46.5%. The survey indicated that 2.4% of voters are still undecided or intend to cancel their vote or cast a blank ballot.

The Quaest poll, also released on October 13, shows Lula leading eight points with 49% of the total vote. If we take into account valid votes, that is to say without counting whites, draws and abstentions, Lula has a 53% preference, against 47% for Bolsonaro. Quaest’s methodology for this poll attempted to take into account the possibility of abstention that was so prevalent in the first round at 21% and used the concept of ‘probable voter’.

The experience of the first round and the divergence with polls on voting intentions mean that the two campaigns are not giving in to appeasement or resignation and that the frantic electoral work will continue until October 30.

About William G.

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