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LATIN AMERICA | 25-10-2022 17:54

Bolsonaro stalls in polls after ally clashes with police

Former right-wing lawmaker fires at authorities and lobs grenades in near-fatal shootout; Incumbent Brazilian president loses steam in closing days of race.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s momentum in opinion polls seems to have stalled after a series of blunders and incidents over the past few days, including the arrest of one of his most outspoken supporters – an episode that turned violent and shook Brazilians ahead of Sunday’s presidential run-off.

Leftist challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 76, would take 54 percent of valid votes, which exclude null and blank ballots, compared to the incumbent’s 46 percent, according to an Ipec poll published late Monday. Both were unchanged from a week ago.

A separate poll by Ipespe published early Tuesday also showed no changes from the week prior: Lula remains with 53 percent of valid votes while Bolsonaro gets 47 percent.

Bolsonaro’s campaign entered the final stretch of the race on edge following an hours-long stand-off between former lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, the ex-president of a right-wing party, and federal police on Sunday. 

Jefferson fired a rifle and lobbed grenades at police who had orders to detain him for violating the terms of his house arrest. The vocal politician was barred from using social media, but just a few days earlier posted a video online comparing a female member of the top court with a prostitute.

Two officers were wounded before he was brought into custody.

The showdown also weighed on market bets that Bolsonaro was about to overcome Lula, and raised concerns about possible post-election violence in the country. The Brazilian real lost 0.6 percent in early Tuesday trading, to 5.3381 per dollar, after weakening the most in about a month the previous day.

Bolsonaro has since tried to distance himself from Jefferson, saying they are not friends and that whoever goes against the police is a bandit. According to a flash poll conducted by AtlasIntel, two-thirds of Brazilians view the one-time lawmaker negatively and nearly 60 percent believe he should go to prison.

The incident capped a series of gaffes by Bolsonaro and his allies that likely halted the conservative president’s upswing since the October 2 first-round vote. Major polls last week indicated the one-time Army captain was narrowing Lula’s lead, with some surveys suggesting the current and former president were in a dead heat.

Last week, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes enraged voters after unveiling plans to end automatic adjustments to public servants’ salaries and pensions according to the rate of inflation. Guedes and Bolsonaro later denied any intention to hurt the spending power of the poor or elderly, but campaign insiders worry about the potential damage ahead of the run-off.

Before that, Bolsonaro, 67, suffered another blow when a video emerged in which the president talks about a visit to a group of “very pretty 14- or 15-year-old” Venezuelan migrants in a poor Brasilia neighbourhood, apparently suggesting they were sex workers.

According to an adviser, who requested anonymity to speak about private strategy, the campaign is concerned that the episodes will hurt Bolsonaro’s chances with demographics he’s been struggling to win over: low-income voters and women. Carmen Lucia, the Supreme Court justice who was insulted by Jefferson, is from Minas Gerais, a key battleground state the president is working hard to take after Lula won it in the first-round by nearly five percentage points.

Ipec interviewed 3,008 people across Brazil between October 22 and 24, with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Ipespe interviewed 1,100 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.


By Andrew Rosati and Daniel Carvalho, Bloomberg

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