JUIZ DE FORA, Brazil ( Associated Press) — Brazil’s presidential campaign officially began Tuesday, as former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva led the election over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, amid growing concerns about political violence and democracy. in the midst of danger.
Lula, whose two terms lasted from 2003 to 2010, wears a bulletproof vest for his public appearances. He was scheduled to deliver a speech at an engine factory on Tuesday morning, but was asked by the police to cancel the event due to security reasons, according to his campaign. Instead, the left-wing politician would begin his seventh presidential bid at the Volkswagen plant in So Bernardo do Campo, a construction city outside So Paulo, where he rose to fame as a union leader in the 1970s.
Bolsonaro visited again at the crossroads in the city of Juiz de Fora, where he was stabbed to death by a mentally ill man in a 2018 campaign. He arrived on a motorcycle, surrounded by security guards and wearing a bulletproof vest, unlike in 2018, when he was found among the crowd. without any protection. He shook hands with well-wishers and came on stage to deliver a speech.
Creomar de Souza, founder of political risk consultancy Dharma Politics, said Lula’s visit to the car plant is typical of Brazilian symbolism.
De Souza told the Associated Press, “Lula is creating some nostalgia in elements of his first campaign in 1989, pointing to the legacy that his presidency has left behind.”
And Bolsonaro’s return to the site where he was stabbed is an attempt to rekindle the same rebel profile he projected in the wake of corruption revelations that rocked the nation and allowed the former lawmaker to win in 2018. Granted, said Mauricio Santoro, professor of political science from the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
“For Bolsonaro, it is his image as a rebel candidate and against the system, and the attack against him was a central piece of that narrative,” Santoro said. “For him and his supporters, the man who stabbed him was not a ‘lone wolf’, but part of a political elite conspiracy against Bolsonaro,” he said.
The election is a big battle in Latin America’s largest democracy, as the rest of the candidates are far behind. According to the most recent poll published last month by pollster Datafolha, the rush of the two main candidates is because almost all Brazilians know them. Both addressed their supporters for months, although they were not allowed by the electoral authority to solicit votes or broadcast advertisements. So far, no debate has been scheduled between Lula and Bolsonaro.
“It’s impossible not to be excited when you return to this city,” Bolsonaro told the crowd in Juiz de Fora, where people were searched before passing through metal barriers to reach the president’s podium. “The memory that is with me is that of rebirth. My life was spared by our Creator.”
After his speech, Bolsonaro quickly exited, surrounded by security personnel, standing in the back of a truck, waving to the crowd.
Despite the 2018 attack on Bolsonaro, recent events have raised fears that it is his supporters who are most likely to instigate incidents. Earlier in the year, Bolsonaro supporters surrounded and insulted Lula’s car, and in July one of them killed a local official of the Lula Workers’ Party in the city of Foz do Iguaçu.
Attacks on Lula supporters too: At a rally in June, a drone sprayed the crowd with a foul-smelling liquid, and at another event last month, a man detonated homemade explosives containing feces. The attackers in both incidents were Bolsonaro supporters, according to social media posts reviewed by the Associated Press.
“Lula canceled her first show for security reasons, and that sort of thing has taken over all the areas. I don’t think Bolsonaro takes the same risk, but the last time he was stabbed,” So said Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Insper University in Paulo. “These horrific events are now part of the Brazilian elections, and that matters,” he said.
Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of firearms and under his presidency sanctions have been eased, allowing his supporters to obtain arms and ammunition. He has repeatedly portrayed the election as a fight of good against evil, and at the launch of his candidacy on 24 July, he asked his supporters to pledge that they would lay down their lives for freedom.
His supporters often cite Lula’s 580 days in prison after pleading guilty to corruption and money laundering. Those convictions pulled Lula out of the 2018 race and cleared the way for Bolsonaro; They were previously overturned on procedural grounds by Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court, which later ruled that the judges were biased and that prosecutors were in collusion.
After trailing again in the polls, the former army general has raised concerns that he may reject the results if he loses the October vote. The far-right politician has raised unfounded doubts about the country’s electronic voting system, which has been in use since 1996, especially at a meeting he called with foreign diplomats. His insistence last week provoked a backlash from hundreds of companies and more than a million Brazilians, who signed some letters demanding that the country’s democratic institutions be respected.
When Bolsonaro’s candidacy was confirmed, he called on his supporters to take to the streets to celebrate Independence Day on 7 September. On that date last year, he had announced to thousands of supporters that only God could remove him from power. Analysts have repeatedly expressed concern that he is laying the groundwork for trying to follow the lead of former US President Donald Trump and cling to power.
For this year’s Independence Day, Bolsonaro announced his plans to parade for the military on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, where his staunch supporters regularly visit. Experts worry about what signals it might send ahead of the election, and it’s not clear whether the military is willing to accept it.
Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the campaign “is likely to be a significant test for democracy and the rule of law in the country and Latin America.” The non-profit organization accused Bolsonaro of “undermining confidence in the electoral system by providing, without providing any evidence, that it is unreliable.”
“Candidates should condemn political violence and ask their supporters to respect the right of the Brazilian people to peacefully elect their representatives and stand for election without fear,” he said.
Savaris reported in So Bernardo do Campo. Associated Press writer David Biller in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.