Brazil right-winger to skip debates, cannot campaign: aide

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s far-right front-runner will not take part in any presidential debates or return to the campaign trail ahead of the Oct. 28 run-off election due to his medical condition, one of his closest aides told Reuters on Tuesday.

Fernando Haddad, presidential candidate of Brazil's leftist Workers' Party (PT), attends a news conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni, slated to become presidential chief of staff if Jair Bolsonaro wins the election, said the debates were pointless anyway and would make no difference to his candidate’s commanding lead in the race.

“The main reason (Bolsonaro cannot take part) is that he has a colostomy bag that will not be removed until November ... he likes debating and wants to go, but we have to consider his health first,” Lorenzoni said.

Bolsonaro was stabbed in the gut at a rally last month, while campaigning in one of Brazil’s most polarized elections in decades.

His doctors are working on his full recovery so, if he wins, he could take office on Jan. 1 without a colostomy bag, said Lorenzoni.

Leftist rival Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) has said in campaign ads that Bolsonaro is avoiding the scheduled debates because he is not prepared to be president.

Attempts to unite the Brazilian left against the former army captain have snagged on internal squabbles, making it even harder for Haddad to close a gap in opinion polls, less than two weeks before the run-off.

The latest poll, released by Ibope on Monday, showed Bolsonaro maintaining a wide lead over Haddad, with 59 percent of valid votes against 41 percent.

The poll, details of which ran in newspaper Estado de S.Paulo on Tuesday, showed Haddad with a higher rate of rejection among voters, driven by strong dislike of the PT even among fellow leftists. About 47 percent of people polled said they would never vote for him, compared with 35 percent rejecting Bolsonaro.

Efforts by Haddad’s campaign to attract the voters of center-left Ciro Gomes, who came third in the first round of voting on Oct. 7, devolved into a shouting match at an event on Monday night.

At a rally in the northeastern state of Ceará, which Gomes won in the first vote, his brother and campaign manager Cid Gomes was called upon to formally endorse Haddad.

But Cid Gomes took the opportunity to call for a mea culpa over sprawling graft schemes orchestrated by leaders of the PT. The party’s founder, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is doing jail time for a corruption conviction.

Videos of the event showed Cid Gomes was met with rowdy boos.

“You’re going to lose the election, and it’s your fault,” Cid Gomes shot back. “You morons! Lula is in prison!”

The PT held the presidency for 13 of the last 15 years and Lula remains beloved by many for his social policies, credited with easing the lives of the poor in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

But Haddad, a former PT mayor of Sao Paulo, has been unable to distance himself from the disdain many Brazilians harbor for the party’s role in corruption schemes uncovered by investigators in recent years.

Haddad has struggled to both stand by Lula, whom the PT considers an unjustly convicted political prisoner, and also acknowledge the party’s errors.

Bolsonaro, 63, a seven-term congressman who openly defends Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, is pitching himself as the anti-establishment candidate and appealing to voters fed up with the political corruption and violent crime.

Reporting by Gram Slattery in Sao Paulo and Brad Brooks and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Frances Kerry and Rosalba O’Brien