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Brazil’s disputed runoff faces ‘spiritual warfare’ for evangelical voters.

by Staff
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As the race between Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his leftist challenger, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has tightened, Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies have intensified their courting of a voting bloc key to his campaign: evangelical Christians.

In the days leading to Sunday’s runoff election, the country has been awash in harsh attacks against Mr. da Silva that are meant in part to sway evangelical voters, who make up by some estimates roughly 30 percent of the population and have become key supporters of Mr. Bolsonaro.

The president will probably need this bloc, which tends to be more conservative than other religious groups in Brazil, to vote for him in significant numbers if he is to win a second term.

Mr. Bolsonaro won more than 60 percent of the evangelical vote in his first campaign for the presidency in 2018 and received a similar percentage during the first round of voting in this election cycle.

Evangelicals are the only religious group that has clear political representation in Congress, and they vote as a bloc on certain conservative topics.

Bolsonaro supporters have in recent weeks accused Mr. da Silva of being a Satanist who will close churches if he wins and have described him as a supporter of abortion rights, the legalization of drugs and “gender ideology,” a movement to re-examine the concept of gender.

Mr. Bolsonaro has amplified some of these claims. “When someone is in favor of abortion, as Lula is in favor, the guy turns on the yellow light,” the president said in a recent interview on a podcast, warning voters to be wary of Mr. da Silva.

Mr. da Silva, who has said he is opposed to abortion rights and the legalization of drugs, recently had to clarify that he does not have a pact with the devil. (He has not given a position on “gender ideology.”)

Mr. Bolsonaro has also drawn the backing of evangelical pastors who have used their pulpits to pressure their congregants to vote for the president.

“The speeches within the churches say that this is not an election, but spiritual warfare,” said Vinicius do Valle, a political scientist and the leader of the Observatory of Evangelicals, an organization studying their impact on Brazilian society.

Mr. da. Silva’s allies have fired back with their own attacks on Mr. Bolsonaro’s character, including trying to link him to freemasonry and questioning his sexual morals by pointing to a video in which he suggests sexual interest in teenage girls.

Mr. Bolsonaro has also been accused of cannibalism because of another video, a 2016 interview with The New York Times in which he talks of eating an Indigenous person.

Mr. da Silva, who has said that he has “never used religion in his campaign,” recently met with evangelical leaders and called Mr. Bolsonaro a “compulsive liar.”

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