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Brazil Holds Historic Election         10/02 11:15

   

   RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) -- Brazilians were voting on Sunday in a highly 
polarized election that could determine if the country returns a leftist to the 
helm of the world's fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent 
in office for another four years.

   The race pits incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro against his political 
nemesis, former President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva. There are nine other 
candidates, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva.

   Recent opinion polls have given da Silva a commanding lead -- the last 
Datafolha survey published Saturday found a 50% to 36% advantage for da Silva 
among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin 
of error of two percentage points.

   Agatha de Carvalho, 24, arrived to her local voting station in Rio de 
Janeiro's working class Rocinha neighborhood shortly before it opened, hoping 
to cast her ballot before work, but found 100 others were already lined up. She 
said she would vote for da Silva, and called Bolsonaro "awful."

   "A lot of people died because of him during the pandemic. If he hadn't done 
some of the things he did, some of those deaths could have been avoided," she 
said.

   Bolsonaro's administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing 
of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 
pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.

   But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing 
political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from 
leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce 
economic turmoil.

   Luiz Garcez, 49, in the southern city of Curitiba, said Bolsonaro's 
presidency has been "among the best in history" because "he built a lot and 
helped the country."

   A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million 
Brazilians going hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like several of its 
Latin American neighbors coping with high inflation and a vast number of people 
excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political 
left.

   Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Gabriel Boric in Chile and Pedro Castillo in Peru 
are among the left-leaning leaders in the region who have recently assumed 
power.

   Da Silva could win in the first round, without need for a run-off on Oct. 
30, if he gets more than 50% of valid votes, which exclude spoiled and blank 
ballots. Brazil has more than 150 million eligible voters, and voting is 
mandatory, but abstention rates can reach as high as 20%.

   An outright win by da Silva would sharpen focus on Bolsonaro's reaction to 
the count. He has repeatedly questioned the reliability not just of opinion 
polls, but also of Brazil's electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has 
laid the groundwork to reject results.

   At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to possess evidence of fraud, but never 
presented any, even after the electoral authority set a deadline to do so. He 
said as recently as Sept. 18 that if he doesn't win in the first round, 
something must be "abnormal."

   The two frontrunners have key bases of support: evangelicals and white men 
for Bolsonaro, and women, minorities and the poor for da Silva.

   Da Silva, 76, was once a metalworker who rose from poverty to the presidency 
and is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 
2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.

   But he is also remembered for his administration's involvement in vast 
corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives.

   Da Silva's own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 
months imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls 
indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later 
annulled da Silva's convictions on the grounds that the judge was biased and 
colluded with prosecutors.

   Marialva Santos Pereira, 47, said she would vote for the former president 
for the first time since 2002.

   "I didn't like the scandals in his first administration, never voted for the 
Workers' Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unjustly jailed and 
because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that it makes everyone else look 
better."

   Speaking after casting his ballot in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the 
manufacturing hub in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva 
recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and unable to vote.

   "I want to try to make the country return to normality, try to make this 
country again take care of its people," he told reporters.

   Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the army. He 
turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to 
raise servicemen's pay. During his seven terms as a fringe lawmaker in 
Congress' lower house, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country's 
two-decade military dictatorship.

   His overtures to the armed forces have raised concern that his possible 
rejection of election results could be backed by top brass.

   Traditionally, the armed forces' involvement in elections has been limited 
to carrying voting machines to isolated communities and beefing up security in 
violent regions. But this year, Bolsonaro suggested the military should conduct 
a parallel count of the ballots.

   While that didn't materialize, the Defense Ministry said it will cross check 
results in over 380 polling stations across Brazil. Any citizen or entity is 
able to do the same, consulting a vote tally available at each station after 
ballot closure and online.

   On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts by right-leaning foreign 
politicians, including former U.S. President Donald Trump, who called on 
Brazilians to vote for him. Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 
expressed gratitude for stronger bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime 
Minister Viktor Orbn also praised him.

   After voting Sunday morning, wearing a T-shirt with the green and yellow of 
Brazil's flag, Bolsonaro told journalists that "clean elections must be 
respected" and that the first round would be decisive. Asked if he would 
respect results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.

   Because the vote is conducted electronically, preliminary results are 
usually out within minutes, with the final result available a few hours later. 
This year, all polls will close at 5 p.m. Brasilia time (4 p.m. EDT; 2000 GMT).

 
 
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