Polls have opened for one of the most contentious presidential elections in Brazilian history, with left-wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expected to beat far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.
About 156 million people are eligible to vote in these elections.
Left-wing favorite Da Silva, known as Lula, who voted on Sunday, said he was running for president “to bring the country back to normal” after four years under Bolsonaro.
“We don’t want more hate, more discord. We want a country at peace,” said the 76-year-old ex-president, who is seeking to return after leading Brazil from 2003 to 2010. “This country must regain the right to be happy.
Recent opinion polls have given Lula a considerable lead – the latest Datafolha survey released on Saturday found that 50% of those polled who intend to vote for a candidate said they would vote for Lula, compared to 36% for Bolsonaro. The pollster polled 12,800 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, reporting from Rio De Janeiro, said “a lot of people are asking today if Lula is going to win today or if there will be a runoff on October 30.”
Like many of its Latin American neighbors struggling with high inflation and large numbers of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a political shift to the left.
Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Gabriel Boric in Chile and Pedro Castillo in Peru are among the left-wing leaders in the region who have recently taken power.
Lula rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with establishing an extensive social welfare program during his tenure from 2003 to 2010 that helped lift tens of millions of people out of poverty.
But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in sweeping corruption scandals that have entangled politicians and business leaders.
Lula’s own convictions for bribery and money laundering led to 19 months in prison, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he was leading against Bolsonaro.
The Supreme Court later overturned Lula’s convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.
Bolsonaro, who will vote in Rio de Janeiro, grew up in a modest family before joining the army. He eventually turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise military salaries.
During his seven terms as a fringe legislator in the lower house of Congress, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two decades of military dictatorship.
Vowing to stand up for “God, Homeland and Family,” the president retains unwavering support from his base – evangelical Christians, security hardliners and the powerful agribusiness sector.
However, the 67-year-old has lost moderate voters with his handling of the weak economy, his vitriolic attacks on Congress, the courts and the press, a wave of destruction in the Amazon rainforest and his failure to contain the devastation of COVID -19, which has claimed more than 685,000 lives in Brazil.
There is a chance that Lula could win in the first round, without needing a second round on October 30. For this to happen, he would need more than 50% of the valid votes, which excludes spoiled and blank ballots.
An outright victory would emphasize Bolsonaro’s reaction to the count given that he has repeatedly questioned the reliability of not only opinion polls but also electronic voting machines.
Analysts fear he laid the groundwork for dismissing the results.
At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to have evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the election authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as September 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “wrong.”
Political analyst Adriano Laureno said it is likely Bolsonaro will try to challenge the result if he loses, AFP news agency reported.
“But that doesn’t mean he’ll be successful,” added Laureno of consultancy Prospectiva.
“The international community will quickly recognize the result… There could be a kind of unrest and uncertainty around the transition, but there is no risk of a democratic breakdown.”