Brazil’s presidential candidates will hold their final rallies on Saturday to jostle for votes on the eve of an election that has deeply polarized Latin America’s largest economy.
Charismatic leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, tarnished by bribery allegations, remains a hair’s breadth ahead in the polls after a narrow first-round win.
But many see the race against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro as too close to announce.
The runoff was a dirty fight for the last vote between two men almost equally adored and hated.
Critical political issues such as the economy, corruption and the ailing Amazon have taken a back seat to personal attacks.
Bolsonaro has been accused of “cannibalism” or “pedophilia” for making controversial remarks, while Lula has been derided as a “lawless bandit” who made a pact with Satan.
The rivals engaged in a final mudslinging in their final debate on Friday night, which involved mutual accusations of lies, corruption and disastrous management.
“Stop lying, Lula,” Bolsonaro said. “Do I have to perform an exorcism on you to stop lying?”
“Brazilians know who the liar is,” Lula retorted.
– lost in uncertainty –
Bolsonaro topped pollsters’ forecasts in the first-round vote on Oct. 2, finishing just five points behind Lula, 48 percent to 43 percent.
Lula now has 53 percent voter support versus Bolsonaro’s 47 percent, according to a poll released Thursday by the Datafolha Institute, which will release a final poll Saturday night.
Both candidates have worked hard to win over the 5 percent of voters who want to falsify their ballots and another 2 percent who are undecided.
The runoff election was marked by “uncertainty,” according to a statement by the consulting firm Hold in Brasilia on Friday.
Despite Lula’s “slight advantage, potential voter attitude shifts” could favor Bolsonaro, it said. “Abstention rates will also have an impact on the bottom line.”
On Saturday, Bolsonaro will heat up supporters at a motorcycle rally in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the second most populous state in the country, Minas Gerais.
Both candidates have paid undue attention to the state. Since 1989, no president in Minas Gerais has won an election without a victory.
Lula will have his last performance in Sao Paulo, the economic heart of Brazil, where he started out as a metalworker at the age of 14 before becoming a unionist.
The dogfight has stretched nerves in the country of 215 million, which is facing pressing problems including starvation and an economic recovery from the Covid pandemic that has killed more than 685,000 people in Brazil.
– Two visions for Brazil –
Bolsonaro, 67, is seeking re-election after a first term in which he was accused of mishandling the pandemic.
His tenure was marked by harsh attacks on his perceived rivals, ranging from the judiciary to women and foreign leaders.
Bolsonaro is often dubbed the “tropical Trump,” in a nod to the equally divisive former US leader who on Friday urged Brazil to vote for “one of the great presidents of any country in the world.”
In campaign ads, Bolsonaro apologized for his occasional “slightly aggressive” tone and boasted about lower crime rates, falling unemployment and subdued inflation.
His conservative, hardline fans love his focus on “god, country, family and liberty”.
Lula, Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010, is aiming for a spectacular comeback, telling voters they have a choice between “democracy and barbarism, between peace and war.”
He was the country’s most popular president when he left office, and his social programs helped lift millions out of poverty.
However, he then became caught up in a massive corruption scandal and was jailed for 18 months before his convictions were overturned last year. The Supreme Court found that the lead judge was biased, but Lula was never exonerated.
Both candidates have ardent support, but many of Brazil’s 156 million voters will only vote for the candidate they least loathe — or spoil their ballots.
“It’s not about the political agenda that I usually identify with. I prefer getting rid of one candidate than voting for another,” Karla Koehler, 35, an artist from Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.