Surreal and unpredictable

With a month to go to presidential elections in Brazil, the current campaign can already go down as the most surreal and unpredictable in the country’s history. Up until last week, more than half of Brazil’s 147 million-strong electorate was prepared to vote either for the country’s most famous prisoner, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or for a self-confessed fan of Brazil’s 20-year military dictatorship that ended in 1985, Jair Bolsonaro.
The leftist Lula is sitting in a jail cell after he was convicted of accepting a bribe, while right-wing Bolsonaro is known for his controversial remarks branded as racist, misogynist and homophobic by his detractors.
The country is plagued by uncontrollable violence, endemic corruption, a budgetary crisis, rising unemployment and a president, Michel Temer, breaking records for unpopularity.
Brazilians have had enough. Almost a third of the population say they don’t know who to vote for, markets are volatile and the currency is falling.
None of the other main candidates — Geraldo Alckmin, Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes — have reached double figures in polls.
The calamitous presidential race took a decisive turn last week when Brazil’s electoral court ruled that poll leader Lula could not stand due to the country’s “clean slate” law that prevents felons who have lost an appeal from contesting elections.
Having already served two terms from 2003 to 2010, Lula was not just leading polls but had more than twice the share of second-placed Bolsonaro.
Lula has appealed his ban to the supreme court and United Nations, but he’s running out of avenues to ensure his name appears on the ballot. “Legally he still has one possibility,” said Michael Mohallem, an analyst. Mohallem says this election “looks like no other.” “Every other candidate’s strategy depends on Lula. He’s the key to the election,” he added. The election soap opera also stands out because of the decisive role “judicial authorities are playing,” said Mohallem.
If Lula is definitively barred from standing, that would leave Bolsonaro, who has spoken out in support of the military dictatorship’s use of torture, as the front-runner for the October 7 first round of voting and almost certain to make it to the second round three weeks later. “Bolsonaro as the leading candidate is quite surreal,” said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia.
“The people mostly supporting Bolsonaro are under 35 years, so they were born after the military regime,” he added.
Absurdly, as Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) has only nine deputies in parliament, that affords him only eight seconds of television campaign advertising.
During the first campaign commercial, he had only enough time to say: “We defend family and heritage.”— AFP