There’s only one national election this weekend, but it’s a big one. Brazil goes to the polls for the second round of its presidential election, with everything at stake and the polls tipping a cliffhanger.
In the first round, held four weeks ago, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (left to centre-left) led with 48.4% of the vote, almost 6.2 million votes ahead of incumbent Jair Bolsonaro (far right), who had 43.2%. That was considerably tighter than the opinion polls had predicted: most of them had put the margin at around ten points.
The other two candidates with an appreciable number of votes – Simone Tebet (4.2%) and Ciro Gomes (3.0%) – have both endorsed Lula for the runoff, so he shouldn’t have much to worry about. But although the polls still have him in the lead, it’s close (just four points according to the Economist’s aggregation), and the trend seems to be running against him.
If the polls are out by as much as they were in the first round (and in the same direction), Bolsonaro will win. Pollsters, of course, may well have corrected their methodology – indeed they may have over-corrected, as sometimes happens – but they may not. And there remain widespread fears that if he were to lose a very close election, Bolsonaro, an overt admirer of military rule, would try to subvert the process in some way to remain in power.
As with his soulmate Donald Trump, it’s fair to say that the worst fears for Bolsonaro’s first term have not been realised. Constitutional government in Brazil survives. But countries in this sort of position are best advised not to press their luck. A particular concern is the accelerating deforestation of the Amazon basin, since Bolsanaro, like most Trumpists, is a disbeliever in global warming.
Nor is that the only way in which the rest of the world is concerned in the outcome. Brazil is a big country; its democratisation over the last forty years has been an achievement of historical significance. At a time when the world again teeters on the brink of disaster, shoring up that democracy would provide some much-needed encouragement to democrats everywhere. Undermining it would add greatly to the sense of impending doom.
Polls at 7am on Monday, eastern Australian time. Counting should be reasonably fast, but results from Bolsonaro’s best areas are likely to come in first, increasing the temptation for him to claim victory even if the later figures run against him.