Brazil presidential election: Bolsonaro and Lula clash in television debate

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Brazil’s general elections are just a few months away and the six main presidential candidates took part in the first televised debate on Sunday.

Facing off for the first time in public, the current and former presidents, Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, stole the limelight with discussions turning towards accusations of corruption and deceit.

The far-right incumbent called Lula a “thief” minutes before the debate started, referencing a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras. He went further calling the former president’s administration the most corrupt in Brazilian history.

Lula, 76, was quick to rebuke his government’s record in terms of social reforms and said Bolsonaro “is destroying” the country.

During the debate, which lasted three hours, Lula focused his speech on defending the environment and the Amazon.

Bolsonaro notably lashed out at journalist, Vera Magalhaes, after she claimed he had spread false information about COVID vaccines. He denies these accusations and called her a “disgrace to Brazilian journalism”.

According to the latest polls by the Datafolha Institute, Lula is leading Bolsonaro by 47% to 32%. Other polls give a smaller lead to Lula.

In addition to the two favourites, the organisers of the debate invited four other candidates, including former finance minister Ciro Gomes of the PDT (centre-left) and senator Simone Tebet of the MDB (centrist), respectively third and fourth in the polls.


The former president was detained between April 2018 and November 2019 after being convicted of corruption. He regained full political rights in 2021, when the Supreme Court overturned these convictions, ruling that the court that had tried him in the first instance was incompetent.

Throughout the debate, Lula argued that his innocence had been proven, but the other candidates repeatedly accused him of corruption.

In 2018, the year Bolsonaro won the election, the current president only participated in the first two debates. A month before the first round, he was stabbed at a meeting and after undergoing surgery did not return to the debates.