Far right, ex-military officer wins Brazil vote, faces leftist in runoff
October 8, 2018 10:30 AM NPT
FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos shows presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro (L) attending a television debate at the Rede TV studio in Osasco, Brazil August 17, 2018, and presidential candidate Fernando Haddad attending a televised debate in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/Nacho Doce/File Photos
BRASILIA, Oct 8: Far-right Congressman and former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro won nearly half the votes in Brazil’s first-round presidential election on Sunday, as voters’ anger at corruption drove a major shift to the right in Latin America’s largest nation.
In what is likely to be a deeply polarizing runoff, Bolsonaro, an outspoken apologist for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, will now face leftist Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo, in a second round of voting on Oct. 28.
Dubbed a “Tropical Trump” by some pundits because of his nationalist agenda and anti-establishment tirades, Bolsonaro was swept from the political margins this year by a wave of antipathy toward scandal-plagued traditional parties.
His promise of a brutal crackdown on graft and crime have resonated with voters in the world’s fifth most populous country, which registered a record 63,880 violent deaths in 2017. Bolsonaro has pledged to roll back gun controls and make it easier for police to kill.
With just three weeks until the runoff, Bolsonaro holds a commanding lead. He won 46.3 percent of valid ballots, far ahead of Haddad’s 29 percent but short of the outright majority needed to avoid a second round, electoral authorities said.
In a seismic shift in Brazilian politics, Bolsonaro’s once-tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL) was poised to become the second-largest force in Congress after legislative elections also held on Sunday, giving a boost to his agenda of slashing taxes and state involvement in the economy.
With no backing from major parties and little funding, Bolsonaro relied on his skilful use of social media during the campaign. He gained momentum after a near-fatal stabbing at a rally one month ago that kept him from campaigning.
“This was a great victory, considering we had no television time, a party that is still very small with no campaign money and I was in hospital for 30 days,” he said in video streamed live over social media. “We have to believe in our Brazil. We have to remain mobilized.”
In his first public remarks, Bolsonaro pledged to slash the size of the state, reduce the cabinet to 15 ministries, cut payroll taxes and privatize or shut many state companies if he elected.
Bolsonaro’s surge in opinion polls prompted a rally in recent days in Brazil’s currency and stock market. Many investors want to avoid a return of Haddad’s Workers Party after the end of its 2003-2016 rule saw the world’s eighth-largest economy fall into its worst recession in decades.
Supporters rallying outside his Rio de Janeiro home waved the green-and-yellow national flag, chanting “Our president!” when he returned from voting, accompanied by a nurse, in a convoy of black SUVs.
“Bolsonaro is an example of honesty. Our country needs someone to take tough measures,” said civil servant Orlando Senna, who said his uncle served in the army with Bolsonaro.
Senna said he was worried that Bolsonaro’s presidential rivals would gang up on him and back Haddad in the runoff.
In Sao Paulo, supporters celebrated on a main avenue with a giant inflatable doll in military uniform depicting Bolsonaro’s running mate, retired general Hamilton Mourão.
In the most polarized election since the end of military rule in 1985, Bolsonaro is backed by a group of retired officers like Mourão who have criticized Workers Party governments and publicly advocate military intervention if corruption continues.