RIO DE JANEIRO: The word “liar” rang out dozens of times on Friday night in a bitter final debate that also featured mentions of exorcism and Viagra, as Brazil’s presidential rivals made a last-ditch bid for votes two days before a run-off election.
Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva slung insults as debate on topics such as the economy, corruption, the Amazon rainforest, abortion and foreign policy deteriorated into attack and accusation.
“Brazilians know who the liar is,” said Lula, as the two locked horns over minimum wages and the leftist’s history of corruption allegations.
“Stop lying Lula, stop lying. It’s getting ugly,” said Bolsonaro.
The debate was the second head-to-head confrontation between the two men, and the grand finale of a brutal campaign marked by months of mudslinging, negative ads and a flood of disinformation on social media.
Although Lula holds a small lead in the polls, pundits say it is too close to call, and the rivals are battling for every vote.
Here are three key factors analysts say will determine the outcome.
REJECTION: Millions of Brazilians hate Bolsonaro, Lula or both - and that rejection vote will play a decisive role, analysts say.
TURNOUT: Around 32 million Brazilians didn’t vote in the first-round election on October 2 - more than five times the six million votes that separated Lula (48 per cent) from Bolsonaro (43 per cent).
“Turnout will be key” in the runoff, says political scientist Oliver Stuenkel of the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
ECONOMY: 9.5 million workers are unemployed, 33 million people are living in hunger. Lula, who is remembered for an economic boom and social programs that helped lift 30 million people from poverty, is leaning heavily on that legacy.
Bolsonaro is meanwhile counting on jacked-up welfare payments to the poor, fuel-price cuts and tentative signs of better times ahead to win over voters.
WHAT DO POLLS SAY?
Lula has 53 per cent voter support to 47 per cent for Bolsonaro, according to the poll from the Datafolha institute - up from a four-point gap (52 per cent to 48 per cent) the previous week.
Lula, who turned 77 on Thursday, leads among women (52 per cent), the poor and working-class (61 per cent), and Catholics (55 per cent), according to Datafolha.
Bolsonaro, 67, leads among evangelical Christians (62 per cent) and wealthier voters (59 per cent).
VOTING AND RESULTS
Brazil’s 156 million voters will cast their ballots on Sunday from 8am (1100 GMT).
Polls close at 5pm, with results expected around two hours later.
“It was an anti-debate, there was nothing that will change the state of play,” said Octavio Guedes, a commentator with Globo News. The debate was broadcast live on TV Globo, Brazil’s biggest network.
Popular but tarnished ex-president Lula (2003-2010) entered the debate leading the polarizing, hardline conservative Bolsonaro 53 per cent to 47 percent, according to a poll published on Thursday by the Datafolha institute.
Bolsonaro once again attacked Lula over corruption, which remains the leftist’s Achilles’ heel with many voters.
Lula was the country’s most popular president when he left office in 2010, helping lift millions out of poverty with his social programmes.
But he then became mired in a massive corruption scandal and was jailed for 18 months before his convictions were thrown out last year. The Supreme Court found the lead judge was biased, though Lula was never exonerated.
“With me you will have safety, you will have honesty. There won’t be theft. Do you want me to give more examples of corruption Lula? Or can we move on,” said Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro then insinuated that Lula, beloved by the poor for his common touch, had links to drug traffickers because he visited one of Brazil’s sprawling favelas on October 12.
Lula retorted he was “the only president with the courage to enter a favela,” praising residents who are “extraordinarily hardworking, people who want to study.”
Lula at another point called Bolsonaro “unhinged” and slammed the “insane behavior” of his government over the past four years.
Bolsonaro, 67, is seeking reelection after a first term marked by his widely criticised response to COVID-19 and vitriolic attacks on perceived enemies, including the Supreme Court, women and foreign leaders.
“You isolated Brazil. Today Brazil is more isolated than Cuba. You don’t have a relationship with anyone. No one wants to receive you. No one comes here,” said Lula, 77.
Bolsonaro laughed off the accusation.
“We have a lot going on. The Arab world welcomes me with open arms. I spoke to (US President Joe) Biden a while back. I talk to everyone. Stop lying, Lula.”
Bolsonaro boasted of decreasing employment and inflation when Lula came for him on economic issues.
“Lies Lula! Do I have to perform an exorcism on you to get you to stop lying?”
Bolsonaro’s hardline conservative fans love his focus on “God, country, family and freedom.”
He repeated accusations that Lula was an “abortionist” who wants to legalize drugs. Lula reiterated that he was, in fact, anti-abortion - a delicate issue in socially conservative Brazil.
In another section of the debate, Lula asked Bolsonaro to explain the army’s purchase of 35,000 Viagra pills - used to treat erectile dysfunction and, Bolsonaro recalled, prostate issues.
“Do you use Viagra?” Bolsonaro asked. Lula did not reply.
‘The whole system is against me’
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly alleged Brazil’s electoral system is plagued by fraud, renewed his accusations of a conspiracy against him.
“The whole system is against me,” he said.
However, in a brief post-debate interview with Globo, he gave one of his clearest pledges yet to respect the election result if he loses.
“There isn’t the slightest doubt: whoever gets the most votes wins. That’s democracy,” he said.
Bolsonaro has previously faced criticism for saying he will respect the outcome if there is “nothing abnormal.”
The topic of deforestation in the Amazon briefly came up at the end of the debate, where the rivals bickered over who was most at fault.