Lula, Bolsonaro seek to firm up support ahead of Brazil vote

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s two presidential candidates sought to firm up support in their traditional bases Wednesday, with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva campaigning among the poor in Rio de Janeiro'(s Alemao slum and incumbent Jair Bolsonaro appearing among the faithful at the vast Aparecida basilica in Sao Paulo state.

Earlier this month, da Silva, Brazil’s former president who governed he country from 2003 to 2010, topped the first round of voting with over 48% support. Bolsonaro got 43% support. Since neither received enough votes to win outright they are now headed to a Oct. 30 runoff.

Both men seem to have chosen to celebrate the nation’s patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida, in their comfort zone.

In Alemao, surrounded by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and local community leaders, da Silva attacked his opponent’s public security and education policies.

“The State only shows up in the community through the police; we have to end this!” said the man universally known as Lula. ”Before the police comes, health, culture, education must come.”

In favelas and outskirts of large Brazilian cities, da Silva has regained much of the ground his party had lost in recent years, and especially in the 2018 presidential elections.

“This is the big turning point from 2018 to 2022,” said Pedro Abramovay, Open Society Foundations’ executive director for Latin America. “The Workers’ Party had a significant increase in votes, mainly because it grew a lot in the outskirts.”

Many Brazilians were disappointed by Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, in which nearly 700,000 people died – one of the world’s largest tallies.

Still, the Workers’ Party candidate trails more than 10 percentage points behind Bolsonaro in the state of Rio, and 7 points in Sao Paulo – two important states.

Bolsonaro has also gained in popularity in mid-sized cities, Abramovay said. And him and other political analysts are still waiting to see what impact the current government’s spending spree ahead of this year’s elections will have in poorer areas.

Bolsonaro backed Congress when it sharply raised subsidies in July – the equivalent of about $7.6 billion – to increase welfare benefits, a subsidy for cooking gas and create new cash-transfer programs for truck drivers and taxis.

This month, the president has brought forward payments of the welfare program, so that it would land in the bank accounts of millions of families a few days before the second round of the election – and not after. He also included some 500,000 more families into the program and promised a thirteenth instalment to single mothers.

“I think it is safe to say that if it weren’t for the help of the Auxilio Brasil (welfare program), Lula would have won in the first round,” Abramovay said.

At the Aparecida basilica, tens of thousands of worshippers were making their annual pilgrimage, some traveling on foot for days to attend one of the several services held Wednesday.

The cathedral can welcome up to 35,000 people and after downsizing its services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the basilica has now entirely reopened.

Bolsonaro is faring particularly well among evangelicals, who represent about a third of the population and have embraced his conservative agenda. Many evangelical pastors have used their pulpits to back the president’s re-election bid.

Silvana Alves, a 38 year-old teacher from Sao Paulo, was not thrilled by the president’s visit. For her, mixing “politics and religion isn’t very healthy.”

“If they are here today it is not necessarily to celebrate Our Lady’s Day, but because we are in a period of elections. They want to win votes, right?” Alves said.

AP video reporter Tatiana Pollastri contributed to this report from Aparecida.

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