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LATIN AMERICA | 29-10-2022 15:58

Viagra, exorcism and lies: Brazil's testy final debate

Bolsonaro and Lula pull no punches in final exchange before Sunday's presidential run-off election.

The word "liar" rang out dozens of times 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 Inácio Lula da Silva slung insults as the debate on economics, corruption, environmentalism, 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.

"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 polarising, hardline conservative Bolsonaro 53 percent to 47 percent, according to a poll published Thursday by the Datafolha institute.

 

'Insane behavior' 

Bolsonaro once again attacked Lula over corruption, which remains the leftist's Achilles' heel in the minds of 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 programs.

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.

 

Global isolation 

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 legalise 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. 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.

 

- TIMES/AFP

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