Brazil presidential campaign ends with debate ahead of Sunday vote

Brazilian presidential candidates take part in the presidential debate ahead of the October 7 general election, at SBT television network in Osasco, metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. (AFP pic)

SAO PAULO: Brazil’s divisive presidential campaign careened to its official end on Thursday, with candidates preparing to clash in a final televised debate, before two full days of not being able to stump ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The election in the world’s fifth most populous nation has effectively become a two-man race, pitting far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro against Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT), Brazil’s left-leaning standard bearer.

Bolsonaro maintains a solid first-round lead over Haddad, according to polls from Datafolha and Ibope in recent days, but the same surveys show the pair deadlocked or with Haddad having a slight advantage in the case of a runoff vote on Oct 28, required if nobody wins an outright majority this Sunday.

Bolsonaro has been unable to campaign, aside from postings on social media, since suffering a brutal stabbing during a rally a month ago. On medical advice, he will not take part in Thursday night’s debate, he said.

Nonetheless, support for him has surged in recent days – with some observers saying that he could even win the presidency in the first-round ballot, with the left-leaning vote split between Haddad and a clutch of other candidates.

In a last push on Thursday, Bolsonaro told a radio station in northeastern Brazil, where his support is weakest and Haddad’s is the strongest, that he would put the army to work to help finish some major infrastructure projects long stalled in the region, and said his presidency would invite partners from all parties, including the PT.

“We want to decentralise government revenues and send them to the states, where governors and mayors know best how to apply resources locally,” he said.

Haddad’s campaign hit hard at Bolsonaro on Thursday, using the last day of TV advertising to compare the former army captain, who has long praised Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship, to Adolph Hitler. The adverts showed clips of Bolsonaro’s more incendiary statements next to footage of the former German leader.