Brazilian presidential election goes to a second round as far-right candidate narrowly misses an outright win
October 7 at 8:25 PM
SAO PAULO, Brazil â" A far-right former military man from the political fringe won nearly half the votes in Brazilâs presidential election on Sunday, raising the strong prospect that he could take the helm of Latin Americaâs largest nation in a runoff later this month.
Jair Bolsonaro â" who has been compared to President Trump for his populist candidacy and polarizing style â" was riding a wave of indignation against the corruption in the political class that has governed Brazil since the military dictatorship ended in 1985.
With 97 percent of votes counted, Bolsonaro had 46.5 percent of the vote. That figure put him close to surpassing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff on Oct. 28. His closest competitor, the leftist Workerâs Party candidate Fernando Haddad, was running a distant secon d with 28.6 percent.
Bolsonaroâs performance represented a stunning march forward for a burgeoning global movement of right-wing nationalists who have already captured the top political jobs in the United States, Eastern Europe and the Philippines. Bolsonaroâs strongman approach to politics and his praise for the former military dictatorship have raised fears he would move Brazil away from liberal democracy. Bolsonaro has denied such intentions.
âWithout a big party, without funds, without television time, but with sincerity and truth, weâve taken down figures who thought that, by doing partnerships and deals with the large parties, through television, they would get elected,â Bolsonaro told reporters while voting in Rio de Janeiro.
Bolsonaroâs result was particularly surprising in Brazil â" a nation that, just a few years ago, was seen as a leader of the international left under former president Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva. But Lula â" as he is wid ely known â" is now behind bars, part of a corruption probe that has tainted vast numbers of Brazilian politicians.
Brazilian Workers' Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad talks with journalists Wednesday during a news conference in Sao Paulo. (NACHO DOCE/Reuters)
Barred from running, Lula picked Haddad, a 55-year old former mayor of Sao Paulo, as a stand in. But the vote for the long-ruling Workersâ Party was collapsing in key states. Haddad lost his home turf of Sao Paulo by a massive margin. Eleven other presidential hopefuls also posted dismal numbers.
âToday weâll start to make Brazil great again,â tweeted Henrique Mecking, a Bolsonaro backer and computer programmer in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
Against the backdrop of a bankrupt political class, Bolsonaro presented himself as a stron g outsider who zeroed in on three key issues: the economy, corruption and a terrifying crime wave.
The presidential campaign has had echoes of the 2016 race for the White House, with Brazilians polarized over Bolsonaroâs history of incendiary remarks about women, minorities and the LBGT community. Bolsonaro toned down his rhetoric as he sought to expand his appeal, but has been targeted by critics in an online media campaign â" #elenao, or #nothim.
Liberal Brazilians were aghast at the results, and already speaking of a likely second round defeat.
Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate, gestures after casting his vote in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters)
âR.I.P. myth of Brazilâs racial democracy,â Therese Denise Williamson, who works with the favela communities in Rio de Ja neiro, posted on an anti-Bolsonaro Facebook page.
A seven-term congressmen, Bolsonaro has long loitered on Brazilâs political fringe . Yet, from the Amazon region to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro was winning votes even among groups he has insulted.
âI voted for Bolsonaro because Iâm tired of politicians being the same,â said Maria Aparecida de Oliveira, a 63-year-old housekeeper casting her ballot in an upper-middle class district of Sao Paulo, Brazilâs largest city. âEven if he is a little crazy, someone needs to bring change.â
Analysts expect an intense period of jockeying for political alliances in the coming weeks. But Bolsonaro and his supporters were claiming the clear momentum.
In a country where not voting carries a small fine, 20 percent of people abstained and another 2.6 percent cast blank ballots. As Brazilians look to the second round, even more voters are expected to do the same.
That movement is likely to shr ink the total electoral pool, giving Bolsonaro a potentially stronger shot, some say. Yet Haddad will seek to pick up the votes cast for a flurry of other center-left and left-wing candidates as he seeks to leapfrog the front-runner.
âBolsonaro is a strange phenomenon,â said Lucas de Aragao, director of Arko Advice, a political risk company in Brasilia. âItâs very hard to understand his movement, the why, the how. It doesnât have any precedent in Brazil. Even some Lula voters are turning to him. Itâs happened because Brazil loves this idea of a savior, of a hero. And Bolsonaro now represents this image of a savior as much as Lula does â
Just a few years ago, Brazil saw a surge of progressive policies under Lula, who, while president from 2003 to 2011, pushed through generous welfare programs and labor rights. He governed during a commodities boom that lifted millions of poverty, and left office with a dizzying approval rating of 87 percent.
Lula vo wed to win back the presidency this year, and shot to the top of the polls. But he became engulfed in a sweeping corruption probe, and in April, he began serving a 12 years in prison.
Haddad, his replacement, is a shy, pragmatic economist of Lebanese background, a shadow of the larger-than-life Lula. He has tried to reassure investors he would not pursue radical leftist policies, but many still worry he would not pass the tough reforms seen as necessary to avoid another economic crisis here. Many in the business community have backed Bolsonaro and his economic guru, the University of Chicago-trained Paulo Guedes.
A second round is âgood for the country, because there would be more time to compare projects,â Haddad told journalists on Sunday.
Despite having legalized same-sex marriage and set up quotas for minorities in universities, Brazil remains a socially conservative and religious nation. Bolsonaro has earned key support among an increasingly powerful gr oup: evangelical voters.
Many of Bolsonaroâs core backers are also huge fans of Trump â" a leader with whom Bolsonaro shares striking parallels. Bolsonaro is a tough talker whose strongest followers include white men who feel left behind by economic and social change. He champions âtraditional values,â but has been married three times. He reaches out to his legions of followers via social media.
Bolsonaro has been vague on the details of his proposed policies. But he has vowed to crack down on the violent street gangs who control Brazilâs drug trade and loosen gun laws. He backs the free market but has criticized Chinese investment â" saying he will work with Beijing, but that âwe will not hand our territory over to anybody.â
He has pledged to stop attempts to loosen strict abortion laws and has alarmed environmentalists by saying he would seek development in the Amazon.
Bolsonaroâs backers in far-right movements have cheered on his infamo us political incorrectness for years. He once said a gay son was the product of not enough âbeatingsâ and told a female rival she was not worth raping because she was âtoo ugly.â
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