Tensions rise as Brazilians vote for polarized presidential election

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BRASILIA, Oct 2 (Reuters) – Brazilians voted on Sunday in the first round of their country’s most polarized election in decades.

There have been reports of long lines across Brazil as many head to the polls in a tense election punctuated by bouts of violence and fears of a sharp rise in possession guns under Bolsonaro. Sao Paulo military police said a man entered a polling station in the Cidade Dutra neighborhood and shot two officers.

“Officers are conscious and receiving medical attention,” they wrote on Twitter.

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Most opinion polls showed Lula leading by 10-15 percentage points, but Bolsonaro signaled he may refuse to accept defeat, fueling fears of an institutional crisis. If Lula won more than 50% of the valid votes, which several pollsters are showing within reach, he would clinch an outright victory, forgoing a runoff.

Wearing a “Get Out Bozo” shirt, Rio de Janeiro resident Anna Luisa, 70, said she was voting for Lula for the first time.

“I have to overthrow Bolsonaro,” she said, citing her “homophobia” and her stance on Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, which Bolsonaro has long supported.

Beloved by his fans, Lula is also hated by many Brazilians for his belief in corruption. Bolsonaro often calls him “the inmate”. The leftist, who was president from 2003 to 2010, was jailed during the last election. But his conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court, allowing him to face rival Bolsonaro this year.

Voting in São Bernardo do Campo, Lula acknowledged the dramatic turnaround in his fortunes after a conviction he said was politically motivated.

“It’s an important day for me,” he said. “Four years ago I couldn’t vote because I was the victim of a lie… I want to try to help my country get back to normal.”

Bolsonaro cast his ballot in Rio and said he expected to win Sunday’s first-round election, despite his poor showing in the polls. The former army captain does not trust pollsters, saying their results do not match support at his campaign events.

“If we have clean elections, we will win today with at least 60% of the vote,” Bolsonaro said in a social media video. “All the evidence we have is in our favor.”

A winner could be announced hours after polls close at 5 p.m. Brasilia time (2000 GMT). If no candidate wins more than half of the vote, excluding blank and spoiled ballots, the top two go to a second round on October 30.

Bolsonaro threatened to challenge the vote result, after making baseless allegations of fraud, accusing election authorities of conspiring against him and suggesting the military conduct a parallel count, which it refused to do.

CONGRESS

Brazilians are also voting on Sunday for the 513 members of the lower house of Congress, a third of the 81 members of the Senate and governors and state legislatures.

Although Lula leads the presidential race, Bolsonaro’s conservative coalition is expected to hold a majority in both houses of Congress. It could present challenges for the left to govern a country with growing hunger, high unemployment and an uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Lula and Bolsonaro have promised more generous social spending next year, adding pressure on the federal budget.

The newly established autonomy of Brazil’s central bank and Lula’s choice of a former centrist rival as his running mate reassured some investors that he would not trigger a disruptive break in economic policy.

Lula has pledged to drastically deviate from Bolsonaro’s environmental policies after deforestation in the Amazon rainforest hit a 15-year high. Lula pledged to fight against logging, strengthen the protection of the biome and local tribes, and make Brazil a protagonist in climate diplomacy.

As in previous elections, the Brazilian military was mobilized to reinforce security at some 477,000 polling stations, using electronic voting machines that allow rapid tabulation of results by the National Electoral Authority (TSE).

Following Bolsonaro’s criticism of Brazil’s voting systems, the TSE invited a record number of foreign election observers, including for the first time US observer missions to The Carter Center and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems ( IFES).

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Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Lisandra Paraguassu and Rodrigo Viga Gaier, Gram Slattery and Beatriz Garcia; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Raissa Kasolowsky, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis

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