Brazil's presidential debate on September 26 highlights aggressive campaigning

The antepenultimate debate in Brazil’s presidential race took place on September 26, with the exception of Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), who remained hospitalized after being stabbed while campaigning on September 6. Contestants poorly performing at opinion surveys focused on attacking Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad (PT), who are leading at the polls. Candidates also focused on discussing unemployment and public safety, while using aggressive rhetoric to disqualify one another. Notably, left-leaning Ciro Gomes (PDT), who is struggling to overtake Haddad in order to face Bolsonaro in a likely second round, blamed the Workers’ Party (PT) for “creating Bolsonaro” due to the alleged failed policies of former presidents Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Gomes called Bolsonaro an “abomination”, and strongly criticized his conservative agenda. Furthermore, he denied intentions of forming a coalition with the PT. In turn, Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) called for moderation, labeling the perceived social polarization amid the elections as “unbearable”. In turn, Marina Silva (REDE) and Haddad criticized each other’s parties over their supposed roles in bringing about Michel Temer’s administration, which remains largely unpopular. In this respect, Henrique Meirelles (MDB), the candidate from Temer’s party, attempted to disassociate himself from the outgoing president.


Despite attempts by poorly performing candidates to take the initiative, these efforts are highly unlikely to deliver results before elections on October 7. For instance, although Silva is probably expecting to attract female voters, she is not likely to gather sufficient support to reach the second round. While Haddad is seemingly benefiting from former President Lula's endorsement, pundits suggest Gomes is increasingly seen by many as an attractive alternative to the PT. Although both candidates share center-left outlooks, Gomes’ reputation was not harmed by the corruption scandals that shook the PT in recent years. In the meantime, while candidates share a strong rejection for Bolsonaro, the PSL candidate continues to rank first at the polls. This trend suggests that Bolsonaro will remain a polarizing figure beyond the elections.


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