Sunday marked the start of voting in Brazil’s divisive presidential runoff between far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
After a presidency that saw one of the deadliest COVID-19 epidemics in the history of the globe and extensive deforestation in the Amazon basin, Bolsonaro has vowed to consolidate a significant rightward tilt in Brazilian politics.
Lula promises more social and environmental responsibility, evoking the rising prosperity of his 2003-2010 presidency, before corruption scandals tarnished his Workers Party.
Some 120 million voters are expected to punch their choices into electronic voting machines that Bolsonaro has criticized without proof as fraud-prone, raising concern he may not concede defeat, following the example of his ideological ally, former U.S. President Donald Trump.
That has added to tensions in Brazil’s most polarizing election since its return democracy in 1985 after a military dictatorship that Lula, a former union leader, rallied against and Bolsonaro, a former army captain, invokes with nostalgia.
Brazil’s sharp partisan division has split its population in two.
With Bolsonaro stickers on her chest, Rio de Janeiro resident Ana Maria Vieira said she was certain to vote for the president and would never countenance picking Lula.
“I saw what Lula and his criminal gang did to this country,” she said, as she arrived to vote in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood, adding that she thought Bolsonaro’s handling of the economy had been “fantastic.”
At the same polling station, Antonia Cordeiro, 49, said she had just voted for Lula.
She said Bolsonaro had only worried about the concerns of the rich, at least until the final days of the campaign when he rolled out poverty-busting measures to win votes.
“We can’t continue with Bolsonaro, she said. “He hasn’t worked.”