Brazilian voters are set on October 2 to choose their President, a third of the Federal Senate, and all members of the 513-strong Chamber of Deputies, along with 27 Governors and state legislatures. The election is dominated by the presidential race, which pits current far-right President Jair Bolsonaro against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as the two front-runners by far.
The election comes at a time when Brazil is still suffering from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has now been compounded by fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here is a summary of what to expect.
How does Brazil’s election work?
Voting is compulsory in Brazil for all those who are literate and aged between 18 and 70. People aged 16 to 17 or older than 70 or who cannot read or write can cast a ballot if they wish. There are more than 156 million registered voters in Brazil for this election.
The President, like the Chamber of Deputies, is elected to a four-year term. Elections for the 81-member Federal Senate take place every four years, alternatively for one-third and two-thirds of its members. At this election, one-third, or 27, senators are to be chosen.
The ballot on October 2 will also see the election of 27 Governors for the country’s 26 states and one Federal District, along with the state and Federal District legislative assemblies. If no candidate in the elections for President and Governors receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, there will be runoffs on October 30.
Who are the presidential candidates?
The presidential election features two front-runners who far outstrip other contenders in preelection surveys. They are:
President Jair Bolsonaro, Liberal Party
Bolsonaro, who is considered to be far right in outlook, took office as President in January 2019 after winning the 2018 election in a runoff. Before that, he had been a Congress deputy for the state of Rio de Janeiro for 27 years.
A retired military officer, he was elected on the back of socially conservative promises to improve law and order in the country, finding major support among evangelical Christians, businesspeople and rural landowners. True to his election platform, during his time in office Bolsonaro has cut taxes, increased support for the military, loosened gun ownership laws, and weakened environmental regulations. His administration contains twice as many members of the military as the previous one.
His term in office has been particularly marked by the coronavirus pandemic, with Bolsonaro downplaying the dangers of the disease it caused and causing consternation by recommending unproven remedies. Initially, lax preventive measures contributed to Brazil having the fourth highest COVID-19 death toll in the world at around 685,000.
However, Bolsonaro has also taken some measures to help Brazil’s poorest, including the Auxilio Brasil program that was approved by Congress in December 2021. It replaced the Bolsa Familia program instigated by his rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when he was in office from 2003 to 2010.
In August, payments to the 18 million recipients were increased at Bolsonaro’s behest. The president also pushed through the provision of a monthly stipend to taxi and truck drivers.
Nonetheless, Bolsonaro has persisted in the current campaign with his socially conservative platform while carrying out virulent attacks on da Silva, more commonly known as “Lula,” whom he depicts as a threat to the country’s very existence.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Workers Party
Da Silva, a former union leader, is currently leading pre-election polls in what is his sixth presidential campaign. He also enjoyed considerable popularity as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010, leaving office with an approval rating of 83 per cent. This was largely down to the social programs he introduced to help impoverished families, financed by the country’s commodity boom.
His appearance at the 2022 election represents a major comeback for da Silva, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017 on a range of corruption and money laundering charges. His imprisonment prevented him from taking part in the 2018 elections against Bolsonaro. Da Silva was freed from house arrest in 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled that he had not received due process.
His current campaign has taken a more religious turn than previous ones in view of Bolsonaro’s appeal to evangelical Christians, who make up some 30 per cent of the electorate. Among other things, he has depicted the incumbent President as “possessed by the devil”.
Indeed, da Silva’s main thrust has been that he is not Bolsonaro, who has proven to be a controversial figure both domestically and internationally and had an approval rating of just 38 per cent at the end of August.
Just two of the nine candidates who are contesting the election have reached more than 10 per cent in voter surveys ahead of the poll. They are Ciro Gomes from the Brazilian Labor Party and Senator Simone Tebet of the Brazilian Democratic Movement, who have both campaigned on more centrist platforms than the two front-runners.
The economic programs they offer are more moderate than those of the far-right Bolsonaro and the leftist da Silva, but so far the two appear to have little chance of capturing a meaningful proportion of the vote. However, any endorsements they offer may be crucial in a runoff.
What are the main issues?
As mentioned above, Brazil is still reeling economically from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as regards the government subsidies that were paid out as stimuli. This makes economic management perhaps the major theme of these elections. The pandemic has also made public health in itself an important issue for many voters.
The country is also facing spiralling inflation, partly driven by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This has led to high prices for fuel and food that many poorer people are struggling to pay. Questions of social inequality may well determine many voters’ choice of candidate.
Environmental issues are likely also to be at the forefront of some voters’ minds, with Bolsanaro having faced much criticism nationally and internationally for his actions allowing increased exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, a vital carbon sink.