Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attracted thousands of supporters to their final campaign rallies Saturday in a last-ditch bid for votes on the eve of Brazil’s polarizing presidential election.
Bolsonaro, the 67-year-old president known for his gloves-off style, led one of his trademark motorcycle rallies from the north side of Sao Paulo to the city’s Ibirapuera park.
He grinned and waved at the head of a battalion of bikers decked out in black leather and the yellow and green of the flag as the crowd chanted: “Lula, thief, your place is in prison!”
About five kilometers (three miles) from there, Lula, the 76-year-old ex-president who left office in 2010 with an unprecedented 87-percent approval rating, held his own rally on the economic capital’s main avenue, Avenida Paulista.
A sea of red-clad supporters waved banners ranging from “Lula 2022” to the rainbow-colored LGBTQ pride flag, shouting: “Jair, time to go!”
In line with campaigning rules, neither man addressed their supporters. Both rallies dispersed without incident.
With the country deeply divided, tension is running high heading into Sunday’s election which Lula is gunning to win outright, without the need for a runoff on October 30.
A poll from the Datafolha institute released Saturday put the charismatic but tarnished leftist on the cusp of a first-round win, with 50 percent of valid votes to 37 percent for Bolsonaro.
To win outright, he would need 50 percent plus one vote.
Another poll published Saturday by the Ipec institute found similar numbers: 51 percent for Lula to 37 percent for Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly signalled he could challenge an election loss, saying “only God” can remove him from office and alleging, without evidence, fraud in Brazil’s electronic voting system.
“We’re going to win in the first round — 64 percent of the vote,” Bolsonaro’s congressman son Eduardo said at Sunday’s rally, repeating his father’s claims that polls showing Lula in the lead are fake.
Former metalworker Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010, said Friday he feared the incumbent would create “turmoil” if he lost.
Some fear a possible Brazilian version of the unrest that rocked the United States last year after Bolsonaro’s political role model, Donald Trump, refused to accept electoral defeat.
“You always have to brace for trouble with Bolsonaro—he’s capable of anything,” 52-year-old retiree Anderson Momesso told AFP at the Lula rally.
But 29-year-old teacher Ully Kotler said she was confident the “complete tragedy” of Bolsonaro’s government had left him so isolated that “all he can do is stomp his feet and threaten a coup—it won’t go much beyond that.”
Bolsonaro’s popularity has been dented by a weak economy and his chaotic management of Covid-19.
‘Best president ever’
But his backers ardently defend Bolsonaro’s record.
“Four years isn’t much time to fix all the things our governments did wrong in the past,” said 54-year-old Isabel de Morais, who runs a clothing store and wore a green T-shirt marked “Freedom.”
“Bolsonaro is the best president we’ve ever had.”
Others welcomed the incumbent’s defense of conservative, Christian values.
“If Lula wins, he’ll just go back to the scene of the crime and keep stealing,” added domestic worker Laudiceia Saraiva, 46, in an allusion to the former president’s graft conviction, since overturned.
Security has been tight around both candidates, who rarely campaigned without bullet-proof vests after Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally during his successful 2018 electoral race.
The campaign homestretch descended into mud-slinging Thursday when Lula and Bolsonaro traded insults in their final presidential debate.
Bolsonaro wasted no time pouncing on the controversial corruption charges that have long dogged Lula, who in turn branded his rival an unashamed liar.
The incumbent president received a last-minute endorsement Saturday from Hungary’s rightwing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who described him as an “exceptional” president in a video Bolsonaro posted on Twitter.