Brazil's Lula meets centrist Cardoso in anti-Bolsonaro move

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Brazil's former Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso greet each other as they pose for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil May 12, 2021. Picture taken May 12, 2021. Ricardo Stuckert/Lula Institute/Handout via REUTERS.

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BRASILIA, May 21 (Reuters) - Two former Brazilian presidents overcame decades of political rivalry on Friday with a public show of common purpose: blocking Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro from gaining a second term next year.

Former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met with centrist Fernando Henrique Cardoso, also a two-term former president, for lunch last week, in a move bringing Brazil's left and center closer to joining forces to oppose Bolsonaro.

Lula published a photo of the two ex-presidents' fist-bumping in face masks to social media on Friday, causing ripples of excitement in Brazilian politics.

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Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 on a wave of anti-establishment sentiment and opposition to Lula's Worker's Party (PT), which had governed Brazil for 13 years straight. Critics of Bolsonaro, an admirer of the 1968-1985 military dictatorship that Lula and Cardoso campaigned together to end, see his presidency as a threat to the country's democratic institutions.

Bolsonaro's popularity has plummeted during the pandemic, which has killed nearly 450,000 Brazilians as the president played down the severity of the coronavirus, dismissed mask wearing and cast doubt on the importance of vaccines.

Recent opinion polls show Lula could defeat Bolsonaro soundly in a run-off if the October 2022 election were held today. Lula is widely tipped to challenge Bolsonaro next year, but he has stopped short of confirming his candidacy outright.

The former presidents' rapprochement started when Cardoso said he would vote for Lula in the run-off to stop Bolsonaro from winning. Lula then tweeted praises of Cardoso, whom he replaced in January 2003 in the Brazil's first transition between elected presidents in nearly half a century.

Lula's PT and Cardoso's Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) have been Brazil's main political rivals since the 1994 election that brought Cardoso to power.

Sources in both parties told Reuters the risk of Bolsonaro holding onto power made the two men forget past rivalry.

Cardoso tweeted that his party will field its own candidate next year, but if he does not make the run-off "I will not back the current president, but whoever opposes him, even Lula."

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Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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