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Brazil’s election: A clash of presidents

On Sunday, Brazilians will head to the polls to vote for their president. The world has its eye on two candidates: incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Here’s everything you need to know:

Who are the candidates?

While there are 11 candidates in the running, this election is likely a battle between Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula. It is predicted that 80 percent of Brazilian voters will vote for one of these candidates.

Current president and incumbent candidate Bolsonaro has had a rather turbulent presidency thus far. Bolsonaro is a right-wing populist who took office in 2019. When he assumed the role, he vowed to “restore order” and actively denounced corruption and crime. The media often referred to Bolsonaro as the “Trump of the tropics” due to his conservative ideologies and strong stance against leftists. His presidency was marked by reduced gun regulation, expanded deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, and corruption scandals. One of the defining moments of his presidency was the COVID-19 pandemic, which came a year into his term. Bolsonaro denied the dangers of COVID, calling it a “little flu,” which ultimately led to Brazil having the second-highest death toll in the world as of Aug. 2022, the Buenos Aires Times reports.

Bolsonaro’s biggest competition is Lula. Lula was elected president in 2002 after running four times. He became the first leftist leader in Brazil in nearly a half-century and served two terms. He left office with a very high approval rating for an exiting president, BBC reports. During his terms, Lula funded large-scale social programs and increased the minimum wage. In July 2017, Lula was caught in a scandal and sentenced to nine years in prison for corruption, charges which he fervently denied. In November 2019, new evidence found that the judge working the case may not have been impartial, leading to Lula’s release. He promptly returned to the political stage.

Brazil has no limit to the number of terms a person can serve, but they can only serve two consecutive terms at a time.

What do polls look like?

The election on Sunday is only round 1. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates will compete in a run-off election on Oct. 30. As the day inches closer, Lula continues to gain a lead over Bolsonaro, with current polls showing Lula at 48 percent of the vote and Bolsonaro at 31 percent. Just last week, the polls showed Lula at 47 percent, suggesting that his momentum continues to build, reports Reuters.

Given the numbers, the polls also suggest that Lula has the potential to win the election in the first round alone. However, if the race goes to a second round, polls by The Economist suggest that Lula would likely win by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. These numbers have been understandably concerning for Bolsonaro. 

The incumbent has made a variety of strategic moves to help push polls in his direction. For one, he attended the UN General Assembly this month and gave a speech touting the wins of his administration in an effort to garner support. Bolsonaro has also attempted to openly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. His party released a document alleging that there are a group of government contractors with “absolute power to manipulate election results without leaving a trace.” The released document contained no evidence and was immediately rejected by Brazil’s electoral authority, The New York Times reports. The Supreme Court is now investigating Bolsonaro’s party for fraud. 

Bolsonaro has also suggested that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he does not win. He stated that he would accept the results if they are “clean and transparent,” however his discrediting of the election suggests that he doesn’t perceive the election as either, reports the Economist. Many have drawn similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump’s election-denying methods, further amplified by the fact that Trump previously referred to Bolsonaro as his “number-one ally.”

What’s at stake?

The biggest stakeholder in this election is the Amazon rainforest. Many media outlets have deemed this the election to determine the fate of the Amazon because of how much either candidate would change the trajectory of its management. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation sharply increased. When he was elected, he favored the agribusiness industry and consequently removed enforcement measures, cut spending and fired experts from science and environmental agencies, and tried to weaken Indigenous land rights, Vox reports. By 2021, Amazon deforestation rose 73 percent above 2018 levels. These levels are expected to rise if Bolsonaro stays in office according to Reuters.

On the other hand, during Lula’s presidency in 2003, he coordinated with government agencies to reduce deforestation by 70 percent and advocated for climate change mitigation. In his current campaign, Lula also places emphasis on reducing deforestation and getting rid of illegal mining in the rainforest, Grist reports. An analysis shows that Bolsonaro’s loss could cut deforestation by approximately 89 percent. 

This could be the election’s most pressing issue. The Amazon is home to nearly 40,000 plant species, 427 kinds of mammals, 1,300 birds, 378 reptiles, 400 amphibians, and 3,000 freshwater fish. Excessive deforestation could cause a runaway reaction, transforming the rainforest into a savannah-like ecosystem, unsuitable for most Amazonian species. The tipping point for the reaction is predicted to be when approximately 20 to 25 percent of the forest is gone. Currently, approximately 17 percent of the Amazon is already gone. The outcome of this election could very well determine the future of the forest.

Source: Brazil’s election: A clash of presidents

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