Brazil’s Bolsonaro and Lula spar in first debate of runoff campaign

REUTERS/Mariana Greif
Former Brazil’s President and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazil’s President and candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro attend a Presidential Debate ahead of the runoff election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 16, 2022.

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attacked each others’ records in office on Sunday in the first debate of the second round of Brazil’s election.

Reflecting a fiercely polarized race that has been largely devoid of policy debates, the two candidates fell back often on personal attacks during two hours of debate on TV Bandeirantes.

Lula said half of the 680,000 deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil could have been avoided if not for delays in the purchase of vaccines by the government of Bolsonaro, who minimized the gravity of the virus and pushed unproven cures.

Bolsonaro later took the offensive and blasted Lula for corruption scandals during the 14 years that his Workers Party governed Brazil. A huge graft probe arrested dozens of business leaders and politicians, including Lula, who spent time in jail on a bribery conviction that was later overturned by Brazil’s Supreme Court.

Lula won 48% of the votes in the first round of the election on Oct. 2 against 43% for Bolsonaro, whose unexpectedly strong performance set the stage for a competitive runoff on Oct 30.

In a heated campaign to win swing votes, both candidates have ramped up their rhetoric, and delivered bruising personal attacks in TV ads.

Bolsonaro’s campaign was counting on Sunday’s debate to help close the gap with Lula, who still has a lead of roughly 5 percentage points, based on surveys by pollster Datafolha.

Neither candidate detailed in the debate how they would raise the money to extend a more generous welfare program, which both have promised to do without breaking federal budget rules.