(Bloomberg) -- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is stepping up efforts to sway supporters of candidates who are trailing in Brazil’s presidential race in a last-minute attempt to clinch an outright victory next Sunday.

The leftist leader, who pollsters say is closer than ever to winning on Oct. 2, will receive the explicit backing of several Brazilian artists on Monday, part of a strategy that has placed him as the head of a broad coalition against President Jair Bolsonaro. Last week, he got the support of eight former presidential candidates. 

“I’m working to win in the first round,” Lula said during the meeting with former candidates, including ex-Central Bank chief and Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles and ex-Environment Minister Marina Silva. “Every gesture I make is intended to show that I want to win.”

An outright victory would mark a resounding comeback by the former president, who had his reputation tarnished by corruption allegations that landed him in jail in 2018, before having his sentence annulled by the nation’s top court on technical grounds. Since the country’s return to democracy, only Fernando Henrique Cardoso won elections in the first round, both in 1994 and 1998. 

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Lula would need more than 50% of valid votes, which exclude null and blank ballots, to avoid a run-off against Bolsonaro on Oct. 30. The latest Datafolha poll released last Thursday showed him with 47% of voting intention, against 33% for the incumbent -- meaning a second-round vote still remains as the most likely scenario. 

“It is not possible now to say whether or not Lula would win in the first round because he is within the limit of the margin of error,” Luciana Chong, head of Datafolha Institute, said in an interview. About Bolsonaro’s chances of an Oct. 2 victory, she was more clear: “It is very difficult.” 

Bolsonaro’s Strategy

Yet the president keeps telling his followers that opinion polls are wrong and that he’ll certainly win in the first round. During a speech to supporters in London, where he attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, he said only something “abnormal” at the electoral court would prevent him from finishing with at least 60% of the votes. 

Remarks like these have raised concerns that Bolsonaro is following Donald Trump’s play book and preparing to challenge the election’s result, should he be defeated. 

Two members of Bolsonaro’s campaign said, however, that the president’s goal is to keep his base energized to avoid an outright victory by Lula. The people, who requested anonymity to discuss private marketing plans, said the incumbent needs more time to reap the fruits of more generous cash payments to the poor and to increase Lula’s rejection rate while softening his own image.

Crucial Week

The final stretch of the presidential run will be crucial as many Brazilians may switch allegiance at the eleventh hour. 

While voting intention for the front-runners is pretty much crystallized and the percentage of undecided Brazilians is substantially lower this time around, a significant number of supporters of leftist Ciro Gomes and centrist Simone Tebet could still change their mind. 

About 10% of Brazilian electors consider switching to a candidate more likely to win, according to an Ipec poll released last week. That might be enough to give Lula the votes he needs for a first-round victory. His challenge, pollsters say, is to ensure that his supporters show up to vote, given that abstention rates are usually higher among low-income Brazilians who make up most of the former president’s support base.

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Moreover, Gomes and Tebet, who together claim 12% of the electorate according to the latest Datafolha poll, have been trying hard to dissuade their followers from casting a so-called strategic vote for one of the front-runners. “Strategic voting is voting with your conscience,” Tebet said during a televised debate Saturday night.

Yet 89% of Brazilians would like to see this year’s polarizing election resolved on Oct. 2, putting an early end to the bellicose atmosphere surrounding the contest. 

“Lula’s plan to seek a strategic vote may work,” Datafolha’s Chong said. “There are voters of other candidates who haven’t completely decided yet and may still change their mind.”

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