Second head-to-head debate between far-right Bolsonaro and leftist rival Lula promises to be an aggressive bout, two days ahead of the divisive presidential run-off election.

The rivals' previous debates have been a flurry of insults and attacks, with little focus on policy.
The rivals' previous debates have been a flurry of insults and attacks, with little focus on policy. (Reuters Archive)

Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will face off in a final debate, two days ahead of Brazil's divisive, down-to-the-wire presidential run-off election.

Their second head-to-head debate on Friday night promises to be an aggressive, attack-filled bout — the grand finale of a brutal campaign marked by months of mudslinging, negative ads and a flood of disinformation on social media.

Although Lula holds a small lead in the polls, pundits say the race could still go either way — making the debate a high-stakes final showdown as the rivals battle for every last vote.

"The only thing that could change (the situation) at this point is the debate," said political scientist Felipe Nunes, director of polling firm Quaest, whose research indicates 55 percent of Brazilians say presidential debates are "very important" in deciding their votes.

"Any slip-up, any tone-deaf remark, could end up being decisive in the final result," he told the AFP news agency.

The debate will be broadcast live on TV Globo, Brazil's biggest network, at 9:30 pm (0030 GMT Saturday), just after the country's most popular telenovela.

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Flurry of insults and attacks

Lula, the popular but tarnished ex-president who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, heads into the encounter in Rio de Janeiro leading the polarising, hardline conservative Bolsonaro by six percentage points, 53 percent to 47 percent, according to a poll published on Thursday by the Datafolha institute.

Lula, who turned 77 on Thursday, led Bolsonaro, 67, by just four percentage points last week, according to Datafolha — and most analysts give the veteran leftist a slight edge heading into Sunday's vote.

"Bolsonaro needs a goal-fest. Lula can play for a 0-0 match," political columnist Josias de Souza wrote on the news site UOL, breaking down the debate in football-mad Brazil's favorite sports metaphor.

But Bolsonaro can hardly be counted out.

He defied pollsters' predictions of a double-digit defeat in the first-round election on October 2, finishing with 43 percent of the vote, to 48 percent to Lula.

The rivals' previous debates — two with other candidates ahead of the first round, and one other head-to-head clash on October 16 — have been a flurry of insults and attacks, with little focus on policy.

Last time, Lula attacked Bolsonaro as a "little dictator" and "the king of fake news."

The incumbent counter-attacked calling him a "national shame" who "did nothing for Brazil but stuff public money in your pockets and those of your friends."

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Source: AFP