Incumbent Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his left-wing challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have faced off in their final televised debate ahead of Sunday’s tense run-off vote.
Polls suggest Lula is the slight favourite to come back for a third term, capping a remarkable political renaissance after his jailing on corruption convictions that were overturned. But Bolsonaro outperformed opinion polls in the first-round vote this month, and many analysts say the election could go either way.
During Friday’s free-wheeling debate, the deeply polarising figures attacked each other’s character and record, accused each other of lying and refused repeatedly to answer each other’s questions.
“Brazilians know who the liar is,” said Lula, as the two locked horns over minimum wages and the left-wing politician’s history of corruption allegations.
“Stop lying Lula, stop lying. It’s getting ugly,” said Bolsonaro.
Lula, who served as president between 2003 and 2010, also highlighted that Bolsonaro’s government has not yet provided an increase to the minimum wage above inflation.
“This man governed for four years and there was not one percent of a real increase,” Lula said at the TV Globo debate in Rio de Janeiro, which lasted two and a half hours. He said the minimum wage is now worth less than when Bolsonaro was inaugurated.
Bolsonaro quickly promised to lift the minimum wage from $229 a month to $265 next year, though that was not included in his 2023 budget proposal sent to Congress, which the incumbent president’s allies control.
The debate was the second head-to-head confrontation between the two men, and the grand finale of a brutal campaign marked by months of mudslinging, negative advertisements and a flood of disinformation on social media.
Lula leads polls
Still, most analysts and focus groups with undecided voters suggested the president had done little to shake up a race that polls show broadly stable since Lula led the first round of voting on October 2 by five percentage points.
That result was better for Bolsonaro than most polls had shown, giving him a boost of momentum to start the month, but the past two weeks of the campaign have presented headwinds.
On Sunday, one of Bolsonaro’s allies opened fire on Federal Police officers coming to arrest him. A week earlier Bolsonaro had to defend himself from attack advertisements after he told an anecdote about meeting Venezuelan migrant girls in suggestive terms.
In their first head-to-head debate this month, Lula blasted Bolsonaro’s handling of a pandemic in which nearly 700,000 Brazilians died, while Bolsonaro focused on the corruption scandals that tarnished the reputation of Lula’s Workers’ Party.
On Friday night, both candidates returned repeatedly to Lula’s two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, when high commodity prices helped to boost the economy and combat poverty. Lula promised to revive those boom times, while Bolsonaro suggested current social programmes are more effective.