Brazil’s presidential election in October is shaping up to be a riveting head-to-head contest between two larger-than-life figures representing opposite ends of the political spectrum: the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who ruled the country from 2003 to 2010. While there are 10 other contenders in the race, none has a realistic chance of winning. The election outcome will have profound implications for South America’s biggest and most-populous nation.
Lula, a former labor union leader, was found guilty of money laundering and corruption in 2017 and sentenced to almost 10 years in prison, which prevented him from running in the elections that brought Bolsonaro to power four years ago. He was released in 2019 after a change in appeal laws, and the nation’s top court annulled his conviction on procedural grounds in 2021, clearing the way for him to stage a political comeback. A 76-year-old cancer survivor, Lula is revered by those who credit him with implementing social policies that lifted millions out of poverty during his two terms in office, and reviled by others who see him as a symbol of corruption. Bolsonaro, 67, a former army captain who was stabbed while on the campaign trail in 2018 and has been hospitalized several times as a result of that attack, is equally controversial. His supporters consider him a guardian of traditional family values and an anti-corruption crusader, while his opponents have labeled him a far-right authoritarian and accuse him of advancing sexism, racism and homophobia.