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Brazil: Palestine favourite Lula and friend of Israel Bolsonaro head for presidential runoff

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian president (L) and Lula, former Brazilain president (R)

All eyes were on Brazil yesterday as the people went to the polls to elect a president at one of the most pivotal moments in the country's history. For months, pollsters and analysts have been saying that the leftist Lula da Silva (known universally simply as Lula) will be the next Brazilian president after four chaotic years under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, during which nearly 700,000 Brazilians died of Covid-19 and more than 30 million were plunged into poverty.

Around 156.4 million Brazilians cast their votes at polling stations from 8am to 5pm yesterday to elect the president of the republic, 27 governors, 583 representatives to the Lower House, a third of Senate members, and representatives of the regional parliaments. The result was unexpected, with Bolsonaro and Lula heading for a runoff after the latter received 48.4 per cent of the votes cast, and the incumbent got 43.23 per cent. They were the figures with 99.87 per cent of the votes counted. The two will now face off on 30 October in what is regarded widely as evidence that Brazil is indeed one of the world's great democracies.

"Four years ago I couldn't vote because I was the victim of a lie in this country," said Lula after casting his vote in São Bernardo do Campo, the city where he began his legendary political career as a union official in the 1970s. "I was arrested by the federal police on election day. I tried to get a ballot box brought to my cell to vote, but they didn't allow it. Today I am here voting in recognition of my total freedom." Lula was detained for 580 days because of a judicial effort to remove him from the 2018 presidential election. Shortly afterwards, the Federal Supreme Court annulled all of the decisions of the process that condemned him. The court determined former judge Sérgio Moro to be incompetent. Lula regained his political rights and became eligible to stand in this year's election.

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In office, Lula took many decisions in favour of Palestine, including its recognition as an independent state within the 1967 borders. He raised the status of diplomatic representation between the two countries and allocated a plot of land near the Brazilian presidential palace for the Embassy of Palestine. Of the 716 votes cast at the polling station inside the Brazilian Consulate in Ramallah by Brazilian citizens living and working in the occupied West Bank, Lula received 592, whereas Bolsonaro only got 52 votes. At the Embassy of Brazil in Israel, however, Bolsonaro got the most votes. Even so, the result of those expatriate votes was much more balanced than the equivalent result in 2018.

According to the head of the Brazil-Palestine Institute in the South American country, for Lula to get the majority of the Palestinian votes in the occupied land was no surprise. "Every vote for Lula, after all, is a vote for the Palestinian case," explained Dr Ahmed Shehada. "Voting for Lula in Palestine during a Brazilian election reflects the awakening of the Palestinian Brazilians' thoughts. Moreover, current President Jair Bolsonaro has shown clear hostility towards Palestinians, and he does not even recognise the existence of a Palestinian people."

Former US President Donald Trump backed Bolsonaro on the eve of Sunday's vote with a video message to Brazilians via Twitter: "[Bolsonaro has] done an absolutely incredible job with national issues, the economy and politics," claimed Trump, who called his fellow right winger "one of the great presidents of any country in the world." He gave his "strong" endorsement of Bolsonaro. "Hopefully he will be the leader [of Brazil] for a long time. He has taken your country to great heights again. People of Brazil, your country is now respected because of him all over the world."

Bolsonaro is a close friend of Israel, as many far-right politicians around the world are, paradoxically. The occupation state also rushed to support him with a video message via Twitter: "Thank you President Jair Bolsonaro for your leadership in strengthening the alliance between the people of Israel and the people of Brazil. That relationship has never been stronger." Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the bonds between the people of Israel and Brazil got stronger every time he visited the country.

According to Arlene Elizabeth Clemesha, Professor of Arab History at the University of São Paulo, the election runoff was unexpected. "The polls suggested that Lula da Silva was likely to win with more than 51 per cent of the votes cast," she told me, "but if we look at the results state by state, we can see that Bolsonaro won in states known for their loyalty to him." Internationally, she added, the world recognises that there is a former president and current candidate, Lula, who is a real leader with a vision that can take Brazil back to great places. "On the other side, we have a current president who has been a disaster for Brazil´s international relations."

Internationally, a victory for Lula da Silva would represent the latest in a series of triumphs for a resurgent left in Latin America, following the election of leftist leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Chile. Today, the majority of Brazilians and, indeed, many people around the world, are hoping for a Lula victory on 30 October.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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