Brazil heads into one of its most bitterly polarised elections ever on Sunday with the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro surging in final opinion polls as support for the country's traditional centre-right appears to have collapsed.
A poll released on Thursday night by the Datafolha agency showed the former army captain on 35 per cent support, more than that of all the centre and centre-right candidates combined.
This late surge still leaves Mr Bolsonaro, notorious for his misogyny, homophobia, racism and criticism of Brazil’s 30-year old democratic settlement, well short of outright victory and likely to face a run-off round on October 28th against his closest challenger.
He appears to be benefiting from the rise of Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad, currently occupying second place in the polls on 22 per cent. Mr Haddad only entered the race last month after former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was barred from running because of a corruption conviction.
Blame for recession
Many Brazilians continue to blame the Workers Party for a devastating recession and the corruption scandals that led to the ousting of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Mr Haddad's insistence during the campaign that Mr Lula is a political prisoner, that other parties are responsible for the recession, and maintaining Ms Rousseff's impeachment was a "coup" has led to a sharp increase in his rejection ratings.
Trying to capitalise on his late rise in the polls, Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign has called for a final push by supporters to deliver an outright victory on Sunday. While in the first round his advantage over Mr Haddad is in double figures, it falls to within the margin of error for the second round.
A run-off between Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Haddad risks further polarising a contest that has already been marked by acts of violence and a torrent of fake news on Facebook and WhatsApp.
In a last-ditch attempt to elbow his way into the run-off Ciro Gomes, the left wing populist back in third place with 11 per cent in polls, has sought to portray himself as the only viable candidate capable of stopping Mr Bolsonaro reaching the presidency. On Friday, he said on a walkabout that Mr Haddad "does not have the energy, nor the authority needed to combat this fascist wave that is taking over Brazil".
But even before Sunday’s vote, candidates in down-ticket races allied with other presidential contenders have started declaring their support for Mr Bolsonaro in a second round.
Meanwhile, the powerful rural, evangelical and public security caucuses in congress have also come out in support of Mr Bolsonaro while the country’s financial markets have rallied in recent days at the prospect of an eventual Bolsonaro presidency implementing a liberal reform agenda. This has happened even though during the campaign he has crossed swords with his market-friendly economics guru while his voting record during 28 years in congress shows a firm rejection of all efforts at economic liberalisation.