Lula v Bolsonaro: Campaigning ends before Brazil's presidential run-off

On Sunday, Brazilians will choose between a future of conservative values under Jair Bolsonaro or the return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former leftist ex-president who governed on a more moderate stance while in power.

Official campaigning has now ended, in what was an extremely polarised campaign; many are simply voting against the candidate they dislike.

On the one hand, da Silva points to his track record of improving Brazilians' livelihoods while president from 2003 to 2010, and pledges to care for them again.

Opposing da Silva is incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who appeals to religious conservatives and claims da Silva’s return to power would usher in communism, legalised drugs and abortion.

Expectedly tight

For months it appeared that da Silva was heading for an easy victory, but opinion polls can be misleading. In the first round, only five percentage points separated the two candidates.

Bolsonaro has railed against Supreme Court justices and cast doubt on the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system, which analysts have warned is a clear sign that he could reject election results.

He has also expanded Brazil's largest welfare programme, granted cooking gas vouchers to low-income Brazilians, given €500 million to taxi and truck drivers and announced a programme to forgive up to 90% of state bank debts for some four million people. Bolsonaro hopes this will endear himself to da Silva’s traditional working-class base.

Analysts say that the former president has, meanwhile, at times acted as though his victory was assured, and a matter of merely running down the clock.

A divided nation

Still, da Silva has kept the focus on kindling nostalgia for his tenure, when Brazil became the 'B' in the BRICS group of emerging nations and tens of millions were pulled up into the middle class, eating well and travelling.

“Lula’s campaign is about the past; that is its biggest strength and biggest weakness,” says Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

“It is the memory of the boom years of the 2000s that makes people want to vote for him," he adds. "But his unwillingness or inability to articulate new ideas and bring in fresh faces has left him somewhat helpless as Bolsonaro closes the gap.”

Most polls now show da Silva with a narrow lead. On 22 October his party’s president released a video saying that da Silva will only win if everyone turns out to vote.

Years after the revelation of massive corruption in da Silva's Workers' Party, some voters are holding their noses and backing Bolsonaro, even those who disagree with his culture-warrior crusade. Da Silva's brief stay in prison on corruption charges, which were eventually overturned, has added to this shift.

Sunday’s vote marks a choice between two completely different paths for Brazil. With it, the risk of political instability, or even violence, cannot be ruled out.