Brazil’s president Bolsonaro launched a personal attack on a female journalist during an election debate with rival Lula

“I think you’ll fall asleep thinking about me. You like me,” Bolsonaro told Vera Magalhães after she asked him about Brazil’s Covid-19 vaccination rate. “You are a disgrace to journalism in Brazil,” he said.

Magalhães later said that Bolsonaro’s attitude was “totally out of control, unnecessary, and… harmful to himself.” She said she believes Bolsonaro “doesn’t want to be questioned by women.”

Bolsonaro’s insulting comments to Magalhães came after he faced criticism over his attitudes towards women. The far-right leader defended his government’s support for laws in favor of women and said “a large part of women in Brazil love me” because he opposes drug legalization.

Bolsonaro and former president Lula joined four other candidates in what was the first televised debate before October’s presidential election. The debate focused on a range of issues including the economy, climate change, and the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, but was peppered with personal attacks.

Bolsonaro has been forced to defend his handling of the economy, the climate crisis and the pandemic. The president claimed that Brazil’s economy was “booming,” despite record unemployment under his administration.

Meanwhile, Lula, the most popular candidate according to recent opinion polls, has denied accusations of corruption and defended his innocence.

Lula was convicted of corruption in 2017 and surrendered to federal authorities in April 2018 to begin serving a 12-year prison term. However, in 2021, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, allowing him to run for president again.

“I was arrested to get you elected president but then I was found not guilty. But I will win now to see in one fell swoop what you want to hide so badly!” Lula said in reference to Bolsonaro’s alleged efforts to hide information and undermine transparency since he took office.

Senator Simone Tebet, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party and member of the country’s Covid-19 parliamentary commission, accused Bolsonaro of delaying Covid-19 vaccines and spreading fake news about the virus, a claim the president denied.

The three other candidates who participated in the debate were Soraya Thronicke of the Brasil Union Party, former finance minister Ciro Gomes of the Democratic Labor Party and political scientist and writer Luis Felipe D’Avila from the Novo party.

This is Lula’s sixth presidential run with the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT). He served in office from 2003 to 2011 and left office with an approval rating of 90% after millions of Brazilians were lifted out of poverty during his time in power.

However, his good fortune did not last long. After surviving throat cancer in 2011, da Silva was convicted of corruption and money laundering six years later, charges stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into state-run oil company Petrobras.

The first round of Brazil’s presidential vote is scheduled for October 2 and officials have warned that the hotly contested election could cause chaos.

Brazil could face 'worse' election unrest than US Capitol riots, official warns
The country’s Superior Electoral Court Minister Edson Fachin said in June that there was a risk of unrest “worse” than the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Bolsonaro, who is behind Lula in opinion polls, has repeatedly cast doubt on the country’s electoral process and criticized in particular the use of electronic ballots — a system implemented in 2000. He has also called on the military to conduct a parallel “public” count of votes.

Fachin said the election authorities will not accept interference from the federal government or the Armed Forces, adding that the Organization of the American States (OAS) has agreed to be an observer in the Brazilian elections.

CNN’s Camilo Rocha and Marcia Reverdosa reported from Sao Paulo and Ivana Kottasova wrote from London.