Brazil's Bolsonaro and Lula spar in bruising final debate before vote

© Mauro Pimentel, AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva faced off in a final debate before their runoff election Sunday, focusing mainly on economic hardships.

It is an issue that could sway some of the few undecided voters in the tight race between the far-right incumbent and the leftist challenger who clashed Friday night in a broadcast on the nation's biggest TV network.

Da Silva, who leads in opinion polls as he seeks to return to 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 he would achieve that.

He also highlighted that Bolsonaro’s government hasn’t yet provided an increase to the minimum wage above inflation.

“This man governed for four years and there was not 1% of a real increase,” da Silva said at the TV Globo debate in Rio de Janeiro, which lasted 2½ hours. He said 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 his 2023 budget proposal sent to Congress. He said the economic downturn that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic prevented a minimum wage boost, but pointed to firming economic activity.

“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.”

The former president shot back, “I don’t want to be anywhere near you,” then turned his back.


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