President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday suggested that he would only take part in presidential debates during the runoff stage, but not in the first round. Otherwise, he said, all other candidates would “gang up” on him without allowing him to properly defend himself.
Mr. Bolsonaro wouldn’t be the first to skip first-round debates as an act of self-preservation. Fernando Collor pulled that move in 1989, Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1998, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2006. The latter two were gunning for re-election.
Mr. Collor and Lula, however, were present in presidential debates scheduled during the runoff campaign. In 1998, Mr. Cardoso snagged a first-round win.
Lula and Mr. Bolsonaro are miles ahead of their competition and have little to gain from attending debates (although it would allow voters to scrutinize their proposals). Unless a seismic and unpredictable event happens, one of the two should win the presidency in October.
While not completely averse to the idea of attending debates, Lula has nevertheless defended the idea of narrowing down the number of first-round debates from the current nine to just two.
In 2018, Mr. Bolsonaro participated in just two debates — performing quite poorly. He withdrew from public campaigning, however, after a stabbing attack that threatened his life. Ahead of the runoff, Mr. Bolsonaro claimed he couldn’t take part in debates as he was still weakened from his wounds.