VA few days ago, a member of the Workers’ Party PT hosted a birthday party in the southern Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu. Friends and family members were invited, and pictures of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is always simply called Lula, served as decoration. When the party was already underway, a prison guard who was bothered by the Lula pictures showed up. He argued with the host, left, came back, got out of his car with a gun in his hand – and shot the PT member dead. “Here’s Bolsonaro,” he is said to have shouted, witnesses report. And: “Lula criminal.”
The presidential election in Brazil is preceded by one of the most charged election campaigns in many years. Leftist candidate Lula, whose corruption sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2021 on formal grounds, is around 45 percent in the polls. Right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro only gets about 30 percent and has been far behind for a long time.
So Lula becomes dangerous to the President. The election campaign is also becoming dangerous, as the murder in Foz do Iguaçu shows. Lula blamed Bolsonaro for sowing hatred among the people. There have also been threats against Lula, who likes to be close to his supporters at events but refuses to wear a bulletproof vest.
Trump as a role model
In this election campaign, everything boils down to a duel, other candidates have little chance given the polls. After Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2011, announced a few weeks ago that he wanted to run again, his party officially nominated him on Thursday. “I don’t need to be president again. I could have retained my title as the best president in history and lived the last few years of my life peacefully,” he wrote on Twitter. “But I have seen this country being destroyed. So I decided to come back.”
Bolsonaro, in turn, was nominated by his party this Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. The event took place in a sports arena used for the 2016 Olympic Games. Bolsonaro also has to worry about his safety. Opponents of the president are said to have tried to infiltrate the event, and the Bolsonaro campaign team said there were 40,000 fake registrations.
Polarization is big
Observers have long feared that Bolsonaro could use the military to stay in office if he loses the fall election. The right-wing populist, it is said, could be tempted to once again take the example of former American President Donald Trump and thus the storming of the Capitol. Only recently, given the poor popularity ratings, during a meeting with ambassadors from other countries, Bolsonaro expressed musings about a possible deployment of the military if the election was rigged.
His criticism is aimed at the electronic voting system, which he believes is defective, but experts see it as safe and reliable. Bolsonaro told foreign ambassadors he was only asking questions “because we have time to resolve the issue involving the armed forces.” Less than a year ago, Bolsonaro pulled up tanks on the way to an exercise at the Three Powers Square in the capital Brasília. The military parade was perceived by many as a provocation, because in Congress next door, MPs were debating the electronic voting system at that very hour.
Whoever wins the election is likely to face a lot of resistance as there is no end in sight to the polarization. Steven Levitsky, a political scientist at Harvard, recently put this in a nutshell. He said, “Even God would have trouble governing Brazil in the next term.”