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Brazil’s ‘third way’ candidates gear up to challenge Bolsonaro

Brazilian politics updates

With just over a year until presidential polls, Brazil’s political landscape is increasingly dominated by two polarising figures: incumbent hard-right leader Jair Bolsonaro and former leftwing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The stark choice between the two men has prompted a push by moderates to establish a “third way” candidate — a centrist who can appeal to voters disillusioned with the radicalism of the far right and the history of corruption under Lula’s Workers’ party.

“Brazil urgently needs a project for the country. The third way should start not from personalities, but from the identification of agendas that are not represented by either [Lula or Bolsonaro],” said Alessandro Vieira, a senator with the centrist Citizenship party.

The movement, however, still lacks a single breakout star to unify supporters. Given that both Lula and Bolsonaro can depend on loyal support bases, a wide field of third way candidates would split the vote and reduce the chance of any centrist progressing to the runoff in Brazil’s two-round voting system.

Here are the key figures positioning themselves to become the “neither Lula nor Bolsonaro” candidate ahead of party primaries early next year.

Ciro Gomes

Lawmaker with Democratic Labour party

A pugnacious stalwart of Brazil’s centre-left, Ciro Gomes boasts national name recognition, having already contested — and lost — three presidential elections. Gomes, known simply as Ciro, is a lawyer who hails from a powerful political family in Ceará, north-east Brazil. His longevity in the public eye, however, means he is associated with the “old politics” of horse-trading and backroom deals. Ciro also has a reputation for having an ego. After failing in the first round of the 2018 elections, he refused to back the leftwing candidate challenging Bolsonaro in the runoff and instead flew to Europe. Estimated support in first round: 11 per cent (XP/IPESPE).

João Doria

Governor of São Paulo

João Doria is closely associated with the economic elite of São Paulo. The wealthy businessman, who was mayor of Latin America’s largest city before moving on to governorship of the state, has a reputation as an efficient manager. He spearheaded the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations at a time when the federal government was dragging its feet. Doria, however, is viewed as a careerist and has little name recognition or support outside Brazil’s top earners. He will face a tough primary from other members of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party and critics will be quick to remind him of his backing of Bolsonaro in 2018. Estimated support in first round: 5 per cent (XP/IPESPE).

Sergio Moro

Anti-graft judge

At one point, Sergio Moro was the most popular public figure in Brazil. As a federal judge in the long-running Lava Jato, or Car Wash, anti-corruption investigation, he was feted as a hero by many on the centre-right and depicted at rallies as a barrel-chested superman. His reputation took a hit after he joined the Bolsonaro administration in 2019 less than two years after putting Lula in prison for graft. Moro left the government after a year, but his image was further damaged when the Supreme Court earlier this year ruled he had shown bias in Lula’s 2017 trial. Moro is currently working in the private sector, but his name has been floated as a potential presidential contender for the centre-right Podemos party. Estimated support in first round: 9 per cent (XP/IPESPE).

Rodrigo Pacheco

President of the Senate

As president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco has one of the most visible posts in Brazilian politics. Despite his perceived proximity to Bolsonaro, he has been lauded for his skilful diplomacy in dealing with both Congress and the executive. He has also pushed back against some of the president’s excesses. When Bolsonaro recently threatened to cancel next year’s elections, Pacheco warned him of becoming an “enemy of the nation.” Pacheco, a member of the centre-right Democrats party, could face a tough primary race from Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the popular former health minister who tried to bring scientific rigour to the early stages of Brazil’s Covid-19 response. Estimated support in first round: 1 per cent (XP/IPESPE).

José Luiz Datena

Television presenter

José Luiz Datena is the political outsider. Thanks to his TV show Brasil Urgente, where he reports on grisly and sensational crimes and police operations, the journalist and presenter is well known across the country. His campaign has the support of the rightwing Social Liberal party — the same party Bolsonaro used to contest the 2018 election before severing ties with them shortly after. Datena, who has little political experience, believes he can attract rightwing voters away from the president. Estimated support in first round: 5 per cent (XP/IPESPE).

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