Brazil’s Bolsonaro and Lula trade insults in debate ahead of runoff vote


Brasilia (AFP) — Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva traded jabs and insults as they squared off Sunday in their first-ever head-to-head debate, two weeks from Brazil’s presidential runoff election.

Lula attacked Bolsonaro as the “king of fake news,” drawing accusations of lying, corruption and a “disgraceful” record in return, as the rivals sparred in the first debate for their polarizing second-round showdown on October 30.

Lula, the charismatic but tarnished ex-president (2003-2010) who is seeking a comeback at 76, was particularly fiery criticizing Bolsonaro over his handling of Covid-19, which has killed 687,000 people in Brazil, second only to the United States.

Attacking Bolsonaro over his resistance to buying vaccines and touting of unproven medications such as hydroxychloroquine, Lula said the president “carries the weight of those deaths on his shoulders.”

“Your negligence led to 680,000 people dying, when more than half could have been saved,” the ex-metalworker said in his trademark gravelly voice.

“No other leader in the world played around with the pandemic and with death the way you did.”

In a feisty, free-wheeling debate with minimal intervention by moderators, Bolsonaro, 67, tried to drag the focus to the issue of corruption — a weak spot for Lula, who was jailed in 2018 on controversial, since-overturned graft charges.

“Your past is disgraceful… You did nothing for Brazil but stuff public money in your pockets and those of your friends,” Bolsonaro said.

“Lula, stop lying, it’s bad for you at your age,” said the ex-army captain at another point, simultaneously defending his own record and taking a shot at his rival’s age.

Bolsonaro, the vitriolic hardline conservative who took office in 2019, finished second in the first-round election on October 2 with 43 percent of the vote, to 48 percent for Lula.

But many opinion polls had put Lula’s lead in the double digits.

Bolsonaro’s stronger-than-expected performance has given him an aura of momentum heading into the runoff, and increased speculation over the possibility of another surprise in two weeks’ time.

Lula has 53 percent of the vote heading into the runoff, to 47 percent for Bolsonaro, according to a poll released Friday by the Datafolha institute.

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