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BRASÍLIA: Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has gained ground against incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro ahead of the vast South American country’s October election, and could even win in the first round, a poll out Thursday found.

The Datafolha survey revealed that 48 percent of likely voters would cast ballots for the 76-year-old Lula, while only 27 percent were supporting the far-right Bolsonaro – a whopping 21-point advantage.

A previous poll by the same institute published in March gave Lula a 17-point advantage, but included scenarios featuring other candidates, some of whom have since left the race.

In late April, a PoderData poll put the 67-year-old Bolsonaro just five points behind Lula.

Thursday’s poll showed that if only valid votes were counted, excluding blank and invalid ballots, Lula would win the presidency outright in the first round on October 2, with 54 percent of the vote to 30 percent for Bolsonaro.

If the election were to go to a runoff on October 30, Lula would prevail with 58 percent of the vote, the survey predicted.

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The campaign represents a remarkable political comeback for Lula, four years after the leftist icon – who was wildly popular during his 2003-2010 tenure in office, was jailed on controversial corruption charges.

In a Brazil deeply divided over Bolsonaro’s combative style, social media polemics, weak performance on the economy and chaotic handling of Covid-19, Lula returned to the ring with the immediate status of frontrunner.

For political analyst Creomar de Souza, the poll shows that Brazil’s lingering economic woes could “play in Lula’s favor.”

Thursday’s poll was the first not to include former anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, or the former governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, who have withdrawn from the race.

In third place is the center-leftist Ciro Gomes, with seven percent of the vote.

Datafolha interviewed 2,556 people between May 25 and 26 in 181 Brazilian cities, and the results include a margin of error of two percentage points.

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