Thousands flock to final rallies ahead of polarized mood in Brazil

Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and left-wing front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva drew thousands of supporters to their latest campaign rallies on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to get 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 signature motorcycle rallies from the north side of Sao Paulo to the city’s Ibirapuera Park.

About three miles away, Lula, the 76-year-old ex-president who left office in 2010 with an unprecedented 87 percent rating, held his own rally on the economic capital’s main street, Avenida Paulista.

In accordance with the campaign rules, neither man addressed their supporters. Both rallies spread without incident.

A Datafolha Institute poll released Thursday put the charismatic but tainted leftist on the brink of a first-round victory, with 50 percent valid votes against 36 percent for Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly signaled that he could challenge an election loss, saying that “only God” can remove him from office and alleging, without proof, fraud in Brazil’s electronic voting system.

Former metalworker Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2010, said Friday he feared the incumbent party would cause “a stir” if he lost.

“You should always brace yourself for any problems with Bolsonaro – he is capable of anything,” retired 52-year-old Anderson Momesso told AFP at the Lula rally.

Bolsonaro’s popularity has been tarnished by a weak economy and his chaotic management of Covid-19.

But his supporters fervently defend Bolsonaro’s record.

“Bolsonaro is the best president we’ve ever had.”

“If Lula wins, he just goes back to the crime scene and keeps stealing,” added 46-year-old housekeeper Laudiceia Saraiva, in allusion to the former president’s conviction, which has since been overturned.

The campaign’s home stretch fell into mud-throwing on Thursday as Lula and Bolsonaro exchanged insults in their latest presidential debate.

The incumbent president received a last minute endorsement on Saturday from Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who described him as an “exceptional” president in a video posted by Bolsonaro on Twitter.

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