After an angry final TV debate, the election in Brazil comes down to the wire.
Lula da Silva has a small poll lead over Jair Bolsonaro as the country grows more divided before the election on Sunday.
During the last TV debate before an important election, the two political heavyweights running to be Brazil's next president went at it. This election will have a big impact on the Amazon rainforest, the global climate emergency, and the future of one of the world's largest democracies.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of the left, and Jair Bolsonaro, the current president of the far right, debated in Rio at the studios of Brazil's biggest broadcaster. Polls from the day before the election gave Lula a small but not unbeatable lead.
During the heated meeting, Lula accused Bolsonaro of bungling a Covid outbreak that killed nearly 700,000 Brazilians, arming organized crime by loosening gun laws, and trashing the Amazon and Brazil's reputation around the world. "Brazil is more alone than Cuba," the 77-year-old leftist said, calling Bolsonaro's "insane behavior" to blame.
Bolsonaro, who looked nervous and stumbled a few times on stage, called Lula a liar over and over again and brought up the corruption scandals that happened when Lula's Workers' party (PT) was in power from 2003 to 2016. Bolsonaro was angry and said, "Lula, you're a thief." "Your government was the best at being crooked."
"He's a one-note samba," Lula shot back, quoting one of the most famous bossa nova songs by Tom Jobim.
In his final speech, Bolsonaro got confused and said that, if God wills it, he will be re-elected to Brazil's congress, where he served for almost 30 years until he became an anti-establishment outsider and ran for president in 2018.
This year's election, which many people think is the most important since the end of Brazil's 21-year dictatorship in 1985, has split Latin America's most populous country, with about half of voters rejecting Bolsonaro and almost as many rejecting Lula.
Bolsonaro's supporters see him as an incompetent authoritarian who has ruined the environment and Brazil's place in the world, messed up the country's response to Covid, and split society with his radical, hateful rhetoric. Bolsonaro's supporters think that Lula, who was a moderate president for two terms from 2003 to 2010, is a dishonest "communist" threat whose dealings with leftist dictators like Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega make a joke of his claim to be fighting for democracy.
On Friday, Bolsonaro's most important international ally, Donald Trump, weighed in on the debate by calling Lula "a radical left lunatic who will quickly destroy your country" and urging Brazilians to vote against him.
Lula's supporters worry that Bolsonaro, a former army captain who likes dictatorships and has said he will challenge a "abnormal" election result, could cause chaos like Trump did if he loses. Last week, one of Bolsonaro's sons used unproven claims of election fraud to say that his father was the victim of "the greatest electoral fraud ever seen." This is almost exactly what Trump said after Joe Biden beat him in the 2020 US election.
At the debate on Friday, Bolsonaro seemed to say that he would accept the outcome. He said, "The person with the most votes wins."
No matter which side wins, tens of millions of people will likely be broken. Dhennis Wheberth, a Bolsonaro supporter and evangelical pastor, said, "If Lula wins, I'll move to Finland the next day." His group is still mostly loyal to the president.
A progressive church leader who backs Lula, Henrique Vieira, said that re-electing Bolsonaro would give him a blank check to go after leftist rivals and maybe even try to shut down congress.
"I think Bolsonaro's re-election could kill Brazilian democracy. He's a fascist and an authoritarian," said Vieira, who was just elected to congress for the leftist Socialism and Liberty party (PSL).
"Beating Bolsonaro and electing Lula is a historic task," said Vieira, who has spent the last few weeks trying to destroy Bolsonaro's image as a "good" Christian through street protests and social media videos that call him the "anti-Christ."
But Lula's supporters have been cautiously optimistic in recent days, and polls show that he now has a 6% lead over Bolsonaro.
"I'm hopeful and sure that we'll win, but I'm also nervous. "This is one of the most important elections in Brazil's history," said Cristiano Silveira, a lawmaker from Lula's party in Minas Gerais, one of the country's key swing states.
Bolsonaro, 67, has a lot of support, but first-round polls underestimated how much, say his supporters. Lula won the vote on October 2, with 48.4% of the vote, but Bolsonaro did much better than expected, getting 43.2% instead of the 36% or 37% that was expected.
Thomas Traumann, a political analyst in Rio, thought the election would be even closer than in 2014, when the PT candidate, Dilma Rousseff, beat her opponent, Aécio Neves, by 51.6% to 48.4%, or 3.45 million votes. Neves's party did something controversial and failed to change the result.
Traumann said he thought that reports that Bolsonaro's finance minister, Paulo Guedes, was thinking about freezing the minimum wage and that one of the president's radical allies attacked federal police with a grenade and a gun hurt Bolsonaro's campaign. "[However], it will be very close. It's too close to call," he said, pointing out that people have always been against the PT and that Bolsonaro's government is spending a lot of money on welfare payments to attract poor voters. A study by Reuters found that his government had promised to spend 273 billion reais (£44.4 billion) before the election.
Traumann joked, "I think it will be 51%-49%." "I can't say for whom, though."
Outside the TV studio where Lula and Bolsonaro were fighting, there was no sign that the gap between their supporters was getting smaller.
A 50-year-old physiotherapist named Claudia Nunes was with a small group of Bolsonaro supporters. She said she was sure her candidate would win. She said, "Our flag will never be red." "We dislike Lula.... He's a thief and a bad person.
Across the street, a 37-year-old PT activist named Thulio Siviero said, "We are very worried. We are holding each other's hearts. But we are sure we will win."
Nunes wasn't convinced. He was wearing a bright yellow football shirt, which has become a symbol of Bolsonaro's far-right nationalist movement. She said, "Bolsonaro is going to win." "Lula can only win if the game is fixed."