Voting is taking place in what is arguably Brazil’s most critical election since the end of military dictatorship in 1985.

And it’s the only thing people are talking about here.

Many feel the nation‘s future, and its democracy, is on the line – whatever their political leanings.

The two frontrunners for the presidency are Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known affectionately as Lula, and the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

Voters are going to the polls across the country from 8am to 5pm local time (12pm to 9pm UK time).

A candidate must get over 50% of the vote today to avoid a second round run-off on 30 October – and secure the presidency.

Latest polling gives Lula a 14-point lead over Bolsonaro, which could hand him a victory in the first round. Almost unheard of here.

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If Lula, 76, were to win, this would be a remarkable comeback for the former president, who was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges – charges that were later overturned.

Some believe the charges were politically motivated – he was the frontrunner against Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential campaign.

“Four years ago, I couldn’t vote because I had been the victim of a lie in this country. I was detained by the federal police exactly on election day,” he said today while voting in Sao Paulo.

“And four years later, I’m here, voting with the recognition of my total freedom and with the possibility of being president of the republic, of this country again, to try to return it to normality.”

Lula, a former factory worker and union leader, stepped down in 2010 after two terms in office, with approval ratings close to 90% at the time.

President Bolsonaro, for his part, cast his vote in Rio de Janeiro, saying his “expectation is of a victory today”.

He has consistently questioned the veracity of Brazil’s electoral system and has sown doubt amongst his supporters of a free and fair election.

“If they are clean elections, no problem, may the best win,” he said before he voted.

Bolsonaro, 67, has been a divisive figure in Brazilian politics since he burst onto the scene over four years ago.

His popularity has slumped in recent years because of his government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

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He resolutely denied the dangers of COVID, fought against lockdowns and masks, and promoted drugs like hydroxychloroquine made famous by Donald Trump.

He has also had to weather widespread national and international condemnation over his attitude and policies towards the Amazon rainforest.

Many view this election as one that will determine the future of the forest.

Under President Bolsonaro, farmers and miners have been given free rein to cut down trees at record rates.

During Lula’s presidency (2002-2010), deforestation dropped 65% in Brazil, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

A lot is at stake – not least because nobody knows how President Bolsonaro might take defeat, if indeed the polls are right and Lula pulls off a victory today or later this month.