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Brazilians go to polls to vote in a run-off election between Bolsonaro and Lula

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Brazil today, weeks of divisive and dirty campaigning will culminate in today's runoff election for the presidency there. The choice is between the far-right populist president and a leftist former president. And the electorate is as polarized as the two men competing to lead the world's fourth-largest democracy. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Sao Paulo this morning and joins us now. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So, as I say, you know, very different candidates running against each other in this runoff. It's a stark choice for voters in Brazil. So what are people telling you about having to make that choice?

KAHN: Well, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro has a big and strong base of support, and they say they like his brash, contentious style, and his motto is God, country and family. But his critics feel that the last four years has been disastrous for Brazil and that Bolsonaro is an embarrassment on the world stage and has threatened the country's democracy. And on the other side, you have former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the poor revere him. When he was president in the 2000s, he rode a commodities boom and helped tens of millions rise out of poverty. De Silva, however, was jailed for corruption. His conviction was later annulled. But he carries that baggage. There are few in the middle. And for them, as this race is getting dirtier and dirtier, it's a very tough choice.

RASCOE: Yeah, so this is a runoff election. So in addition to a stark choice, people have already seen these two names on the ballots. Are there really a lot of undecided voters still out there?

KAHN: Polls say there are about 3% still unclear how to vote. And in a tight race, that could make the difference. Generally, and especially here in Sao Paulo state, the better-off and rural residents go for Bolsonaro and so do the religious. I was in this farming community of Casa Branca - it's about three hours from here - and met Michelle Coela (ph), and she's 39. She was on a religious pilgrimage through that farm country. And she says Bolsonaro embodies everything important to her.

MICHELLE COELA: It's about religion, about trusting God for life.

KAHN: Generally, urban residents here tend to go for da Silva. Yesterday, supporters held a huge rally for him.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: Maria Paola Viera (ph) is a 23-year-old law student. She went crazy when Lula came out. She was screaming away.

MARIA PAOLA VIERA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: She said that she can't imagine another four years of Bolsonaro. And if that happens, she will just keep fighting. She said she will never stop.

RASCOE: The world looks at Brazil as a huge democracy, a huge economy, and as the guardian of the Amazon rainforest, so - which is so important for the global ecosystem. Is the Amazon a big campaign issue?

KAHN: It's not really talked about a lot, despite that deforestation here has risen dramatically. And under Bolsonaro, he's rolled back environmental protections and enforcement in the Amazon. Instead, disinformation here has ruled the game. Bolsonaro accuses da Silva of being what he calls a godless abortionist who will turn Brazil into a communist country, a la Venezuela and Cuba. De Silva's camp has tried to shoot back, not as effectively capitalizing on some misstatements by Bolsonaro, claiming he supports cannibalism and pedophilia.

RASCOE: So, I mean, what are - what is election night going to look like, in about the 30 seconds we have left? When will we get the results?

KAHN: It's going to be close. It's going to be tight. Brazil has this electronic voting system, so results are usually out within hours after the polls close at 5 p.m. Brasilia time. That's 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the voting system, taking a page from Donald Trump's playbook. He admires him greatly. Lately, he's stepped up those attacks against election officials. He says they're biased against him. So there's concern he may not respect the vote.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Sao Paulo. Carrie, thank you so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.