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The latest on Brazil's contentious presidential run-off

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Misinformation, threats to democracy, political violence - those aren't just concerns playing out in our elections. Voters head to the polls to vote in a presidential runoff tomorrow in Brazil, South America's largest country. Brazil's far-right incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly cast doubt on the country's voting system. He is running against leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and tensions are running very high across the country. There's been a spike in political violence during the election, and according to reports, both candidates have even shown up at events in bulletproof vests. Meanwhile, polls show the vote is going to be very close.

We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn, who's in Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: This has been one of the most divisive elections in Brazil's history. Tell us a bit more about what is at stake.

KAHN: A lot for Brazilians and the world. You know, for Brazilians, the economy here, like many countries recovering from the pandemic, is hurting. Growth is weak, and hunger is on the rise, as is poverty and inequality. And for the world, there is the Amazon that has seen a dramatic increase in deforestation, which leads to climate change, and that has accelerated under the incumbent Bolsonaro, who is very pro-business and has eliminated a lot of protections and enforcement in the rainforest - so major issues here in how to handle the economy, help the poor, protect the rainforest and ag business, which is a huge part of Brazil's economy. And unfortunately, those topics, especially the health of the Amazon, have not been center stage here. It's been an ugly contest, lots of disinformation spread on social media - and like you said, everything from cannibalism to communism.

MARTIN: If the candidates aren't talking about those major issues, what are they talking about?

KAHN: Bolsonaro has portrayed da Silva as a God-hating communist, bent on closing down churches here if he wins and turning Brazil into Venezuela and Cuba. Da Silva's camp has capitalized on misstatements he's made about cannibalism, he said, in reference to Indigenous groups, and pedophilia when he was talking about young Venezuelan migrants. Last night, they held their last debate. It was quite a drag-out, face-to-face match, and they spent most of the time calling each other liars. Here's one of my favorite exchanges.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: De Silva said it's been reported that Bolsonaro is the biggest liar in the history of Brazil and has lied 6,498 times. Bolsonaro shot back, saying that he has the best reputation in the world, and the world likes him way better than it does da Silva. And at the end, Bolsonaro threw up his hands in the air and praised God, country and family. That's his campaign slogan.

MARTIN: You know, the pollsters significantly underestimated the level of support for President Bolsonaro in the first round of the election. You know, I don't know if there's any way to assess this, but do you think they got it right this time around?

KAHN: That is the big question here. It's going to be very close. Pollsters were really wrong in the first round of voting. They had Bolsonaro down by double digits and he narrowed that significantly. They had a real hard time polling his conservative base. Analysts are saying that the poor could be decisive in the contest, and we see both camps trying to play to the poor. Da Silva's big base of support is the poor, and Bolsonaro has been handing out a lot of money lately.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Carrie, you know that there's this big movement in the United States, particularly among Republicans, to refuse to accept election results if they lose. Now, if is the same thing going on there, has Bolsonaro, for example, said that he'll accept the result?

KAHN: That's a great question because there are a lot of doubts. Donald Trump is his big political idol. Bolsonaro has repeatedly called into question the fairness of the electoral process here.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn. She's in Sao Paulo. Carrie, thank you.

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

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.