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Brazil’s presidential election is just a few days away. Voters compare it to ‘war’ | CNN


The upcoming presidential elections in Brazil have been shrouded in a climate of unprecedented tension and violence. As the October 2 vote approaches, episodes of harassment and attacks have intensified, with even neutral actors such as polling institutes becoming targets.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for reelection, is currently trailing leftist former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva in major polls. And the battle between these two very different household names has divided the nation, with experts saying the level of political anger is different this year.

“The polarization we are facing this year is different from mere political polarization,” says Felipe Nunes, executive director of the Quaest Research Institute, which conducts surveys in Brazil.

“This year we are seeing an affective polarization, where different political groups see each other as enemies, not adversaries.”

Several of the researchers in his group have been harassed while conducting surveys this year, Nunes added.

Another well-known investigative institute, Datafolha, said the life of one of its investigators was threatened after they refused to interview a self-identified Bolsonaro supporter in the city of Ariranha, outside Sao Paulo.

The disgruntled man accused the investigator of bias, accusing him of only interviewing “Lula supporters” and “vagabonds.” He then beat him and threatened him with a knife, says Datafolha, who filed a police complaint.

“One of the guidelines of the surveys is not to interview someone who offers himself. It has to be random for statistical purposes,” Jean Estevao de Souza, coordinator of the electoral research project at Datafolha, told CNN.

“The most typical cases (of assaults) are of people who offer themselves and when the investigator explains that he cannot be interviewed in that circumstance, the person begins to film, offend and curse.”

According to Datafolha, since September 7 of this year, another 42 cases of harassment and violence against its employees have been reported.

While violence has been seen on both sides of the political spectrum, critics accuse Bolsonaro of deliberately fomenting mistrust and frustration among supporters of the Brazilian electoral system. And increasingly, as his performance slips in the polls, Bolsonaro’s wrath has turned on investigative organizations like Datafolha.

Datafolha has been repeatedly named, and the accuracy of its polls questioned, by Bolsonaro. In a speech in Brasilia during the celebrations of the 200 years of Brazil’s Independence on September 7, Bolsonaro debunked Datafolha’s projections, a common theme in his speeches.

“I have never seen such a large sea here with these colors of green and yellow. There is no lying Datafolha here,” she said. “Here is the truth, here is the will of an honest, free and hard-working people.”

During a campaign event on September 23, Bolsonaro kept the tone in a speech before supporters in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais state. “We are the majority. We will win in the first round. There are no elections without people in the streets. We don’t see any of the other candidates holding a rally that comes close to 10% of the people here,” he said.

Recent polls have shown Lula leading Bolsonaro in recent weeks.

Politicians’ attempts to discredit polling institutes are not new in Brazil, says Datafolha’s Estevao de Souza. “But we never experienced harassment and attacks on investigators on the streets until this year.”

“The rhetoric of attacking institutes by the president’s campaign, which tries to discredit the polls, ends up circulating among the most radical supporters and is reflected in the streets,” he said.

Verbal spats between the two leading candidates, while not uncommon in Brazil, have also added to the poisonous atmosphere, with Bolsonaro repeatedly calling Lula a “thief” and Lula recently describing Bolsonaro as a vermin.

Given the charged national dialogue, some Brazilian voters chose to refrain from discussing their electoral preferences in public, according to a Quaest poll.

“We recently asked voters if they feel it is more dangerous to speak their minds or who they want to vote for. And about 80% of those surveyed said that it is more dangerous to talk about politics now than in the past,” Nunes continued.

The attacks on poll researchers are just one example of the political hostility seen in Brazil as the nation prepares for the vote.

During a speech accepting his party’s candidacy for reelection on July 23, the Brazilian president called on his supporters to give their lives “for freedom.”

“Repeat after me: I swear to give my life for freedom. One more time,” Bolsonaro told the crowd who echoed his words.

There have been repeated clashes between supporters of Bolsonaro and Lula, with perhaps the most emblematic episode being the shooting death of Workers’ Party member Marcelo Arruda on July 9 by Bolsonaro supporter José da Rocha Guaranho, who was later accused of aggravated homicide.

Guaranho, who was also shot and later hospitalized, said he doesn’t remember what happened.

These kinds of high-profile incidents have caused fear among some potential voters, and could risk dissuading people from voting. On the streets of Sao Paulo’s iconic Paulista Avenue, voters interviewed by CNN expressed their frustration at the bitter atmosphere surrounding the upcoming election.

“There is too much tension, it is almost turning into a war. It seems that Lula and Bolsonaro are like soccer teams. People are angry with each other,” said Erika de Paula, 33, who said she was still undecided but that she would not vote for Bolsonaro.

Felipe Araujo, who considers himself a moderate supporter of Bolsonaro, hoped that the elections would end soon. “(The elections) are very polarized between the two main candidates. And there are many fights between people. I sincerely hope this ends soon. It has contaminated every environment, work, family, friends,” he said.

Voter turnout will be crucial at this historic juncture for the country, in which Brazil’s leadership could double down on Bolsonaro’s agenda or turn left under Lula.

But four in ten Brazilians believe there is a high probability of political violence on election day, and while voting is mandatory in Brazil, 9% said they were considering not voting at all for fear of violence, according to a poll from Datafolha made previously. month.

“These tensions and attacks are very bad for investigative work, but also for elections, for the political environment in general and for democracy itself,” said Datafolha’s Estevao de Souza.

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