(Bloomberg) -- Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro was the main target of attacks during a debate marked by the absence of his leftist challenger just eight days before presidential elections.
Most Read from Bloomberg
Bank of England Says Paper Banknotes Only Good for One More Week
'Read Putin More Often and Carefully,' Lavrov Tells UN Reporters
Liz Truss's Historic Gamble With the UK Economy Is Already Unraveling
UK Market Plunge Sparks Talk of Emergency BOE Rate Hike
The right-wing president faced questions about alleged corruption cases in his government and the use of the federal budget to buy congressional support in a debate organized by a pool of local media Saturday evening. Front-runner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, meanwhile, was criticized by all for skipping the discussion.
"Lula didn't show up because he's overconfident, he thinks he's already won," said Ciro Gomes, who places third in opinion polls and is struggling to stop some of his supporters from casting a strategic pro-Lula vote in the first round of the election. "Or because he can't explain his unfulfilled promises and corruption allegations."
Read More: Bolsonaro, Lula Battle for Votes in Brazil's Largest State
Bolsonaro tried to fend off attacks from his adversaries by focusing on his Auxilio Brasil program that currently pays 600 reais a month to vulnerable Brazilians, as well as measures to lower fuel prices and to cancel part of student debts. He repeatedly said his government has rooted out corruption.
"This is a government that has a special eye for the most needy," he said.
Bolsonaro's focus on social programs is part of a strategy to reduce Lula's lead among the poor. The former president has 57% of voting intention among Brazilians earning less than two minimum wages, versus 24% for the incumbent, according to a Datafolha poll released Thursday.
Read More: Lula Could Clinch First-Round Election Win, Datafolha Says
During the debate, Bolsonaro received the support of an unusual candidate: a self-declared Orthodox priest replacing former congressman Roberto Jefferson, who was barred from running for his involvement in a corruption scandal. Father Kelmon defended the incumbent on numerous occasions, saying he had "helped the country a lot" and was suffering a concerted attack from all other participants.
Gomes and Senator Simone Tebet, the fourth placed in the opinion polls, also made an effort to dissuade their followers from casting a strategic vote for one of the front-runners, an idea some Brazilians have been considering to resolve the election on Oct. 2. According to Brazil's electoral law, a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to win. If no one gets enough support in the first round, a run-off will be held on Oct. 30.
"Strategic voting is voting with your conscience," Tebet said.
Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek
The Sneaky Genius of Apple's AirPods Empire
US Is Inflating Its Debt Away After Unprecedented Spending Binge
This Is What Life's Like in the World's Strictest Covid Zero City
To Find Success at Work, Match Your Job With Your Personality
Wall Street's Bosses Reassert Themselves With the Return of Annual Culls
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.