Whether they bow devoutly in prayer, court evangelical preachers or ward off memes linking them to Satanism, Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have turned Brazil’s polarizing presidential race into a holy war.
Religion is playing an increasing role in politics in Brazil, where 59 percent of people say it is an important factor in how they vote, according to polling agency Datafolha.
The South American giant of 215 million people is the world’s largest Catholic country – more than half the population – and also has a thriving, politically powerful evangelical community, estimated at nearly a third of the electorate.
Bolsonaro, a conservative Catholic, has cultivated close ties to evangelicals and has made religion a central part of his reelection campaign, under the motto “God, Country, Family and Freedom.”
Lula — also Catholic, but mostly quieter about his faith — has meanwhile grown louder about religion, fending off a disinformation campaign that accused him of plotting to shut down churches and trying to assuage evangelicals’ fears about the divisive issues of abortion. and ‘gender ideology’. .”
“Bringing religion into the debate makes the job of the candidates easier. It’s a way to increase the rejection of the opponent by voters by using issues with strong emotional appeal,” said political scientist Leandro Consentino of Insper University.
The first lady factor
Bolsonaro, who narrowly follows Lula in the polls, has a huge lead among evangelicals: 65 percent to 31 percent.
The 67-year-old ex-army captain has long been close to the evangelical community.
He was baptized in the Jordan River in 2016 by a prominent Pentecostal preacher, is closely associated with the leaders of some of the country’s largest megachurches, and while the president kept his promise to become a “terribly evangelical” Supreme Court judge. to be appointed, Presbyterian pastor Andre Mendonça.
But perhaps his greatest asset is his telegenic, devoutly evangelical wife, Michelle. From the moment Bolsonaro officially launched his campaign in August — when the first lady led an ecstatic crowd to pray the Lord’s Prayer — Michelle, 40, has been crossing the country on his behalf. She calls the election a “spiritual war of good against evil” and labels Lula as “the devil”.
Bolsonaro also has major pillars of influence in influential pastors, such as top televangelist Silas Malafaia, who has condemned Lula as a “liar” and “alcoholic” for his 10 million social media followers.
Bolsonaro has successfully “brought the campaign to its own court” by making religion a central theme, says political analyst Adriano Laureno of consulting firm Prospectiva. “If we were talking about the economy instead, Lula would probably be in a more comfortable position.”
‘Letter of Commitment’
But Lula, 77, won’t go down without a battle of biblical proportions.
The charismatic ex-union leader is more popular than Bolsonaro among Catholics — 57 percent to 37 percent — but struggles to win over more conservative evangelicals. He was forced to return after saying in April that abortion should be a “right.”
The statement sparked outrage in a country where 70 percent of the population is against abortion, according to polls.
Lula has also faced a vicious disinformation campaign from Bolsonaro allies, with viral social media posts accusing him of mortal sins ranging from plotting to shut down churches to a pact with Satan.
Since Lula finished first in the October 2 election by a tighter-than-expected 48 percent to 43 percent, Lula has fought fire with fire.
Using social media tactics once seen mainly on the far right, his allies have spread messages linking Bolsonaro to Freemasonry, Satanism and cannibalism.
While pursuing the evangelicals, Lula, meanwhile, signed a “commitment letter” to them at a campaign event that was a prayer meeting in São Paulo.
“My government will in no way act against religious freedom,” Lula wrote, assuring social conservatives that he is against abortion — banned in Brazil except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life.
Eyes closed and hands folded, Lula listened as a progressive preacher praised him for not using religion to “deceive people.”
The National Catholic Bishops’ Conference, for its part, condemned those who “misuse the faith to win votes” – without naming names.
by Marcelo Silva de Sousa, AFP