SAO PAULO -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made their final appeals for support ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote following an acrimonious face-to-face debate.
The right-wing Bolsonaro took part in a motorcycle rally Saturday in Belo Horizonte, capital of a state that generally winds up backing the winner — and where he finished second to his leftist competitor in the initial round of voting.
Da Silva supporters, meanwhile rallied in the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, where Simone Tebet — a center-right candidate who finished third in the first round — pushed a da Silva victory in the runoff.
“I voted for Tebet on first round and now on second round I’m voting for Lula, against Bolsonaro. I have reservations about (da Silva’s) Worker’s Party, but this weekend I’m putting that aside” said Marcelo Erlich, a 55-year-old executive.
The appearances followed a combative Friday night debate on Globo TV that centered on the economy — an issue that could sway some of the few voters still undecided.
Da Silva, who leads in opinion polls and is trying to reclaim the job he held from 2003 to 2010, once more pledged to boost spending on the poor, though he did not outline a clear plan on how to do that.
He also said that due to inflation, 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 wasn’t included in the budget proposal he has already sent to Congress. He said the economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented a minimum wage boost, but said the economy was improving.
“We did better than you would have done,” the president said to da Silva. “We are ready to take off. We have one of the world’s best economies now.”
Mario Sérgio Lima, a senior Brazil analyst for Medley Global Advisors, said the final debate probably would not sway many voters.
“Bolsonaro needed to score a big win. ... He didn’t do very well among focus groups of undecided voters nor in online mentions,” Lima said, referring to surveys published online in real-time by pollsters. “Now, it is up to the edited videos that both campaigns will create to energize their supporters.”
Bolsonaro, who at one point said, “The whole system is against me," appeared rattled at times.
This debate marked a change from their only previous encounter, when da Silva focused on the president’s widely criticized handling of the pandemic that killed more than 680,000 Brazilians and Bolsonaro homed in on corruption investigations that tarnished his opponent and the Workers’ Party as a whole. The two candidates raised these issues again Friday, but dwelled less on them.
Da Silva repeatedly sought to characterize Bolsonaro’s administration as isolated in the world, noting his scarcity of trips and allies abroad. Bolsonaro retorted that his trip to Russia secured a supply of fertilizer ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, helping Brazilian agribusiness, and he said the Middle East receives him “with open arms.”
Bolsonaro closed by thanking God for saving his life after he was stabbed during the 2018 presidential campaign, and invoked his faith in an appeal to religious voters. Earlier in the debate, he threw his hands in the air and raised his arms, calling out his motto: “God! Country! Family!”
The tensest moment of the debate was when Bolsonaro called da Silva to stand next to him as he answered a question. “Stay here, Luiz,” the president said.
The former president shot back, “I don’t want to be anywhere near you,” then turned his back.
In a post-debate interview with TV Globo, Bolsonaro indicated that he will respect results of the vote. Many analysts have expressed concern he has laid the groundwork to challenge results if they are unfavorable, much like former U.S. President Donald Trump.
“There's no doubt: Whoever has more votes takes it,” Bolsonaro said. “That is what a democracy is.”