Brazil’s ex-left-wing president Lula and outgoing far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro were both betting on a show of strength in Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest city, on Saturday in the final day of an ultra-polarised campaign ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
A few thousand people gathered on Paulista Avenue, the megalopolis’ iconic thoroughfare, to show their support for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), who is ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls and is even aiming for a first-round victory.
“Lula must come back to end what is happening in the country. We have been fighting for a long time for a much fairer, more fraternal society, and Bolsonaro has ruined everything,” Anderson Momesso, 52, told AFP. He came to support the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate wearing a red football shirt, the colour of Lula’s political family.
About five kilometres away, at almost the same time, Bolsonaro led a motorbike procession to Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo’s green lung, wearing a black leather jacket and without a helmet.
Along the road, fenced off by metal barriers, the far-right president was cheered by supporters wearing yellow and green T-shirts and carrying Brazilian flags, while cars honked their horns.
“Lula, thief, your place is in jail!” shouted the Bolsonists.
The former paratrooper has ridden his two-wheeler through many of the country’s cities with his supporters, including Guaranhuns, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, where Lula grew up before moving to Sao Paulo with his family to escape hunger.
The election campaign on radio and television ended at midnight on Thursday, but meetings and leafleting are allowed until Saturday night, the eve of the vote.
Tense end to campaign
The campaign has been conducted under very special conditions, for security reasons: candidates wear bullet-proof waistcoats and security barriers are placed during the meetings to prevent the crowd from getting too close to the stage.
The last few hours of the campaign “will be very tense, everyone will be watching the smallest details that could tip the balance in one direction or the other,” Jairo Nicolau, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, told AFP.
The latest poll from the Datafolha reference institute was expected late on Saturday.
On Thursday evening, the institute gave Lula still largely in the lead in voting intentions, maintaining a 14-point lead over Bolsonaro (48% against 34%).
To get a third term in office on Sunday, the former president must obtain at least 50% of the votes cast (not counting spoiled or blank votes).
In Thursday’s poll, Lula was credited with 50% of these so-called “valid” votes, with the margin of error of the poll (+ or – 2 percentage points) leaving uncertainty over whether a second round will be necessary on 30 October.
Orban supports Bolsonaro
But the transfer of power could prove “more difficult” if the left-wing candidate wins, several months before the investiture on 1 January.
Lula admitted in a press conference on Friday that he feared “unrest” during the transition.
Jair Bolsonaro has given many signs that he might not recognise the results if he loses, citing risks of “fraud” without providing proof.
Last week, the head of state said it would be “abnormal” if he did not win at least 60% of the vote in the first round.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, has given his support to Mr Bolsonaro. “I have met many leaders but not many as exceptional as your president Bolsonaro,” Orban said in a video posted on the Brazilian president’s Twitter account on Saturday morning.
“Let us all vote in peace, security and harmony, with respect, freedom, conscience and responsibility. Together, all Brazilians in the great celebration of Democracy,” urged the president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, Alexandre de Moraes on his Twitter account.