Far-right Candidate Wins First Round of Presidential Election

Posted October 11, 2018

A deeply polarized Brazil stood at a political crossroads Monday as the bruising first round of the presidential election left voters with a stark choice in the run-off between far-right firebrand Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Fernando Haddad. While the business community has largely coalesced around Bolsonaro because of these proposals, detractors have noted that as a congressman he often voted and espoused views that were the exact opposite.

Mr Bolsonaro's poll numbers have increased by about 15% since he was stabbed on September 6.

Haddad, who also made the runoff, came in a distant second.

A supporter of Brazilian presidential candidate for the Workers' Party Fernando Haddad reacts during the general election vote count, in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, on October 7, 2018. While he initially was the front-running candidate for president, with 30 percent support, he also faced a 50 percent rejection by those polled, while a clear majority has indicated its opposition to his release from prison.

Bolsonaro's popularity surged as exasperated Brazilians decided he is the best chance to turn back a wave of violent crime and dismantle what prosecutors call the world's largest political graft scheme.

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The controversial far-right candidate in Brazil's presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro, says he will not tone down his rhetoric ahead of the second round. The Bolsonaro government plan is remarkably vague, with few detailed proposals and single-word bullet points containing buzzwords such as "diversification". He has said he intends to appoint other military leaders to central roles.

Many Brazilians, such as Ruth Pereira Santos, 65, fondly remember the years of rapid growth that Lula oversaw and benefited from his programs lifting millions out of poverty.

Oswaldo Ferreira, one of half a dozen retired generals advising the election front-runner, said a Bolsonaro government would complete Brazil's corruption-plagued Angra 3 nuclear power station on the coast between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro at whatever the cost. Exit polls and official results will start flowing in soon after that via Brazil's electronic voting system. "Unfortunately it was the dictatorship".

The candidate offered little in the way of a detailed policy road map, particularly regarding the country's floundering economy. "The technique is to use people who speak for you but don't speak for you", said Taylor.

The markets rallied as he took the lead in polls, but Bolsonaro is "not the pro-market liberal he pretends to be", warned Monica de Bolle, a Brazilian economist who heads the Latin American Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University.

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Brazilians appear on the cusp of handing the presidency to a brash former army captain who has reminisced fondly about dictatorship, pledged to jail corrupt politicians and promised an all-out war on the drugs and crime that plague South America's largest nation.

Meanwhile, the party has struggled to stage a comeback with Haddad after da Silva was barred from running.

"I think we're going to continue with the same polarisation", if either Haddad or Bolsonaro wins, said Victor Aversa, a 27-year-old massage therapist who voted for centre-left candidate Ciro Gomes, who had been polling third.

Some voters remain fiercely loyal to da Silva, though.

Barbara Aires, a transgender woman who unsuccessfully ran for Rio de Janeiro state representative, said Bolsonaro's first-round victory represented a "step backward" that could lead to "taking back rights and more violence toward the LGBT community".

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"If Brazil is to return to the rates of growth that we all want, there will be a need for energy that can not be supplied from other sources", he said in an interview late on Wednesday.