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LATIN AMERICA | 04-04-2022 07:24

Bolsonaro and Lula already in campaign mode in Brazil

There are more than four months to go until the race for Brazil's October elections officially starts, but the leading candidates are already on the campaign trail.

There are more than four months to go until the campaign officially starts for Brazil's October elections, but far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are already in candidate mode.

Neither of the two front-runners has officially declared a candidacy, and both are trying not to cross the line into actual campaigning – barred by Brazilian electoral law until August. That means no election rallies, and no asking people to vote for them or against the adversary. 

But it leaves a wide-open grey area of activities that look a lot like campaigning, with Latin America's biggest country already deeply polarized six months out from the vote.

"Officially, the campaign starts on August 16, but until then these activities [by Bolsonaro and Lula] will only increase," said political scientist Andre César of consulting firm Hold.

"We're going to see a 'non-campaign' campaign," he told AFP.

The two heavyweights have been holding a steady stream of non-rallies officially called political-party events, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, high-profile meetings with political elites and celebrities, and a frenetic agenda of interviews in the media.

Bolsonaro even set a date to officially announce his candidacy – but then downgraded the March 27 event to a "membership drive" for his Liberal Party, whose lawyers reportedly feared he would breach electoral law if he declared.

 

'Good versus evil'

But the 67-year-old incumbent looked well on his way to polishing his stump speech.

Brazil is facing "a struggle of good versus evil," he told supporters at the event.

Lula, the 76-year-old ex-steelworker who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, was for his part in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday to meet with leading figures of the Latin American left, who clamoured for his return.

"This is the regional leader Latin America needs," gushed Argentina's President Alberto Fernández.

Lula, who was hugely popular as president but then jailed on bribe-taking charges in 2018, has been the front-runner since Brazil's Supreme Court annulled his convictions on procedural grounds last year, clearing the way for him to run for office again.

He currently has 43 percent of the vote heading into the October 2 election to 26 percent for Bolsonaro, in the latest poll from the Datafolha institute, released on March 24.

Cesar puts the likelihood of a Bolsonaro-Lula run-off on October 30 at 95 percent.

Despite a push from the political center for a "third-way" candidate, none is currently polling in the double digits. And one of the best-known names, former anti-corruption judge and Bolsonaro's ex-justice minister Sergio Moro, announced Thursday he was stepping aside.

At this point, "Lula has more to lose than Bolsonaro," said Cesar. "He's leading in the polls, but doesn't hold power or the executive pen. The one with the federal government's machinery at his fingertips is President Bolsonaro."

Bolsonaro has been on a spree of public-works inaugurations, including in traditional Lula bastions, and recently launched a big new welfare programme that critics call a thinly veiled electoral ploy.

 

Awkwardness spillover

Some experts say Brazilian electoral law is too soft on campaigning ahead of the campaign.

"The main limit set by the law is that they're not allowed to ask for votes. It's a very formalistic requirement that's very easy to dodge," said law professor Michael Mohallem.

But the authorities are watching carefully, said César.

"One abrupt move, one overly explicit act, could cause them serious problems," he said.

The awkwardness of the non-campaign is spilling over into other parts of Brazilian life.

Last weekend, at Bolsonaro's party's request, a judge on the Superior Electoral Tribunal banned political statements by musicians at the Lollapalooza festival in São Paulo, after a singer brandished a Lula banner and other artists criticised Bolsonaro.

The injunction drew outcry from the cultural world. Some of the top names in Brazilian music, including living legend Caetano Veloso and pop superstar Anitta, condemned it as "censorship."

Bolsonaro's party later withdrew its complaint, leading the judge to revoke his ruling.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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by by Jordi Miro & Eugenia Logiuratto, AFP

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