Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva traded heated attacks on Thursday in a final debate three days from Brazil’s presidential election, accusing each other of corruption, nepotism and lying.
Trailing in the polls ahead of Sunday’s polarizing vote, Mr. Bolsonaro wasted no time going for the jugular, calling Mr. Lula a “liar, ex-inmate and traitor.”
Seeking to deliver a knockout punch and win the election in the first round, Mr. Lula, the charismatic but tarnished ex-president who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, responded in kind.
“It’s ugly for the president of the republic to blatantly lie all the time... That’s why the people are going to send you packing,” the ex-metalworker said in his trademark gravelly voice.
He told Mr. Bolsonao to “look in the mirror” if he wanted to see corruption, citing graft allegations against the president’s senator son Flavio and ex-education minister, accused of demanding kickbacks for influential evangelical churches.
The moderator, journalist William Bonner, reprimanded both candidates for failing to respect the ground rules, and had his work cut out for him in an unruly, heated debate that also featured five other candidates trailing far behind in the polls.
AFP fact-checkers identified numerous falsehoods in the candidates' statements.
For example, Mr. Bolsonaro tried to fend off accusations he dragged his feet on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines, saying: “No country in the world purchased vaccines in 2020.”
In reality, millions of doses were administered around the world that year.
Mr. Lula meanwhile insisted he was "found innocent" of all corruption charges.
But his convictions were annulled on procedural grounds — he was never found not guilty.
Lula in the lead
Earlier on Thursday, a poll by the Datafolha institute showed Mr. Lula maintaining a 14-point lead over Mr. Bolsonaro, 48% to 34%.
Excluding voters who said they planned to cast blank or spoiled ballots, Mr. Lula’s support reached 50%.
That put him on the cusp of the score needed to win outright and avoid a runoff on October 30 — 50% of valid votes, plus one.
Mr. Bolsonaro, who is fond of saying the only reliable polls are “on the street” — where the 67-year-old incumbent regularly rallies his die-hard supporters en masse — is counting on his evangelical and business-centric base to pull through.
Mr. Lula — who presided over an economic boom, leaving office with an unprecedented approval rating of 87% — is meanwhile appealing to poor, minority and anti-Bolsonaro voters.
The 76-year-old is seeking a remarkable political comeback just four years after being jailed on controversial corruption convictions stemming from a massive scandal centered on state-run oil giant Petrobras.
Freed pending appeal in 2019 after 18 months behind bars, Mr. Lula regained his eligibility to run for office when the Supreme Court annulled his convictions last year, finding the lead judge in the case was biased.