Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began flocking to a stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, where they are expected to officially nominate the right-wing leader as a candidate for re-election in what has turned out to be one of Latin America’s toughest political contests in years.
The right-wing Liberal Party (PL) is expected to choose Bolsonaro as its candidate for the Oct. 2 vote in front of an audience of about 10,000 people at Rio’s Maracanazinho, a move considered the official start of Bolsonaro’s candidacy under Brazilian law.
The nomination comes as the president continues to launch baseless attacks on the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system, casting doubt on whether he will accept defeat. That looks an increasingly likely possibility as Bolsonaro struggles to gain traction with voters as high inflation continues to dent his image.
According to some polls, the former army captain falls by almost 20 percentage points to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who ruled the nation from 2003 to 2010 and lifted millions out of poverty thanks to aggressive social spending during a period of rapid commodity-driven growth. His star has fallen in recent years due to high-level corruption investigations — Lula himself spent more than a year and a half in prison on a bribery conviction that was later overturned — but he remains a relatively popular figure among Brazilians.
But for Bolsonaro fans here, waving Brazilian flags and wearing the national soccer jersey, the possibility of Lula’s return is a no-brainer.
Vera Carvalho, 59, a teacher in Rio, said she hoped there would be no coup, but if it did, it would be the fault of the left, which is trying to install a corrupt president. “I hope there isn’t, but I’m afraid there might be,” she said.
“Lula should go back to prison. He is a pest. Inside, the stadium, which was about half full as Bolsonaro’s speech approached, announcers jeered at the crowd and lawmakers took selfies with fans. A campaign jingle described the president as “the captain of the people.”
At the convention, Bolsonaro is expected to focus on his government’s achievements in securing religious and economic freedom, including his efforts to loosen gun laws, according to campaign sources consulted by Reuters.
The left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) formally nominated Lula on Thursday, while centre-left candidate Ciro Gomes, who ran a distant third, was nominated by the Democratic Workers’ Party (PDT) on Wednesday.
In the coming weeks, the already tight battle between the top two candidates should heat up even more. In mid-August, Lula and Bolsonaro will be cleared by authorities to engage in most forms of political advertising.