Incumbent Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva faced off in a final debate before their runoff election Sunday, focusing mainly on post-pandemic economic hardship.
It is an issue that could sway some of the few undecided voters in the tight race between the far-right incumbent and the leftist challenger who clashed Friday night in a broadcast on the nation’s biggest TV network.
During the debate, the deeply polarizing figures attacked each other’s character and record, accused each other of lying and refused repeatedly to answer each other’s questions.
Da Silva, who leads in opinion polls as he seeks to return to the job he held from 2003 to 2010, once more pledged to boost spending on the poor, though he did not outline a clear plan on how he would achieve that.
He also highlighted that Bolsonaro’s government hasn’t yet provided an increase to the minimum wage above inflation.
“You behave yourself as being the father of the poor, but in 2020 to support the poor they were obliged to stay at home (due to COVID
restrictions) we had to give the emergency aid of 600 reais ($114),” Bolsonaro said at the TV Globo debate in Rio de Janeiro, which lasted 2½ hours.
Bolsonaro quickly promised to lift the minimum wage from $229 a month to $265 next year, though that wasn’t included in his 2023 budget proposal sent to Congress.
He said the economic downturn that accompanied the COVID
-19 pandemic had prevented a minimum wage boost, but pointed to firming economic activity.
The two had only one prior face-to-face debate, earlier this month, with a similar format that allots candidates a bank of time to use as they see fit, either addressing voters or asking questions of their opponent.
Da Silva criticized the handling of the pandemic that killed more than 680,000 Brazilians.
“The only thing you did was to deny the vaccine
on the right moment and allow that more that 300 thousand people died without need in this country. But one day you will pay for that.”
The most tense moment of the debate was when Bolsonaro called da Silva to stand next to him as he answered a question. “Stay here, man,” the president said.
The former president shot back, “I don’t want to be anywhere near you,” then turned his back.