Explainer: What to know about Brazil's heated presidential election

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 30(Reuters) - Brazilians go to the polls on Sunday to vote in one of the world's most closely watched elections this year.

Right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro will face off against leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Also up for grabs will be all seats in the country's lower house and its 27 state and district-level legislatures, all governorships and a third of the seats in Brazil's Senate.

THE CANDIDATES

While there are 11 presidential hopefuls, polls suggest only Bolsonaro and Lula have a real shot at winning.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain elected in 2018, has sought to impose his conservative agenda in Latin America's largest country, but has drawn criticism for failing to improve living standards and for comments widely seen as sexist and racist.

He eschews what he calls "gender ideology," and dismissed the coronavirus as "a little flu." The president has systematically dismantled federal protections for the Amazon rainforest. He has also baselessly attacked the reliability of Brazil's electronic voting system, while raising doubts about whether he would peacefully accept defeat.

Lula, a former union leader who governed Brazil from 2003 through 2010, has pledged to revive the generous social spending programs that marked his first mandate, while beefing up environmental enforcement and better protecting marginalized groups.

While in power, Lula's approval rating soared as he took advantage of a booming economy to dramatically expand Brazil's social safety net. But in the years after he left office, the economy declined, his hand-picked successor was impeached and many of his associates went to prison. Lula himself spent 19 months in jail due to corruption charges that were later thrown out on procedural grounds.

HOW DOES IT ALL WORK?

The polls open at 8 a.m. Brasilia time (1100 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. Due to the electronic nature of the vote, results will roll in quickly, likely within a few hours of polls closing.

If no candidate exceeds the 50% threshold needed to win outright, the top two candidates - likely Lula and Bolsonaro - will head to a runoff vote on Oct. 30.

WHO'S WINNING?

Lula.

All major polls have the former president up by at least 8 percentage points, though some indicate his lead is much wider. A survey by pollster IPEC, released on Monday, showed him up by some 17 points.

But major polls are split over whether Lula has the votes needed to reach the majority needed to win in the first round.

Another issue is turnout. While Lula's support base is wider, there are indications that Bolsonaro's base is more enthusiastic.

(https://tmsnrt.rs/3rkpc7m)

WILL IT BE PEACEFUL?

That's perhaps the biggest question surrounding the vote.

Political violence is on the rise in Brazil. Several Lula supporters - and at least one Bolsonaro supporter - have been murdered due to their political preferences in recent months.

Bolsonaro has said repeatedly he might not accept an election loss, while claiming that the army is on his side. Most analysts see a military coup in the event of a Bolsonaro loss as unlikely, but many fear a period of protracted political violence and economic disruption.

Gun ownership has risen dramatically under Bolsonaro's watch, while rank-and-file police officers tend to support the president politically - a potentially volatile mix.

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering campaigns and Congress. Previously posted in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago, Chile, and has reported extensively throughout Latin America. Co-winner of the 2021 Reuters Journalist of the Year Award in the business coverage category for a series on corruption and fraud in the oil industry. He was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College.