Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro wins first round of Brazil election

As neither candidate won an outright majority, Jair Bolsonaro will face leftist Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo representing the Workers Party, in a second-round vote on October 28

Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro wins first round of Brazil election
Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), casts his vote in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Photo: Ricardo Moraes/REUTERS
English 08/10/2018 14:43 Reuters Rio de Janeiro Gabriel Stargardter & Pedro Fonseca Actualizada 14:44

Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he would stick to tough rhetoric in the second round of Brazil’s bitterly contested presidential election, after his strong win in first-round voting sent financial markets soaring.

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain and veteran lawmaker, nearly won the presidency outright on Sunday, taking 46% of votes against leftist Fernando Haddad’s 29%—part of a dramatic swing to the right in Latin America’s largest nation.

As neither candidate won an outright majority, Bolsonaro will face Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo representing the Workers Party (PT), in a second-round vote on October 28

Some Bolsonaro supporters called on him to moderate his message to ensure victory, but the candidate said he would stick to hardline rhetoric on crime and corruption that has resonated with voters.

The world’s fifth most populous country has been roiled by years of rising crime, recession, and graft scandals.

“I can’t turn into a Little Peace and LoveJair, which would be betraying who I am,” Bolsonaro said in a radio interview. “I have to keep being the same person.”

His words were a thinly veiled swipe at former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who dropped his fiery leftist rhetoric to win the presidency in 2002, dubbing himself the ‘Peace and Lovecandidate.

Lula, who founded the Workers Party and was president until 2010, is serving 12 years in prison for a bribery conviction.

Reflecting confidence that he will win the second round, Bolsonaro said he had already begun talks with other lawmakers in Congress to build an eventual governing coalition. That raised expectations of swift, market-friendly reforms.

Markets have cheered Bolsonaro’s advance toward the presidency since his recent conversion to free-market ideas under the tutelage of University of Chicago-trained economist Paulo Guedes. Signs that Bolsonaro could win enough support in Congress to push through his agenda added to enthusiasm.

“Part of the market’s excitement comes from the renovation in Congress. Regardless of party, that renovation provides hope,” said Pablo Syper, head of trading at Mirae Asset Global Investimentos.

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

But his track record of fiery anti-democratic rhetoric, calls for police to kill as many criminals as possible and opposition to legalizing abortion and gay marriage have put others on edge.

At a news conference on Monday, Haddad cast the second round as pitting Bolsonaro’s neoliberalism” against the social programs that the PT has promoted. He did not offer concrete policy concessions for potential allies.

Brazil’s next Congress was also elected on Sunday, and in a seismic shift, Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) was set to become the second-largest force in the legislature.

The party would still need alliances to push Bolsonaro’s socially conservative policies and free-market reforms through Congress, which was even more deeply fragmented after Sunday’s election.

Thirty parties won seats in the lower house, up from 25 represented there before the vote.

The acting president of the PSL, Luciano Bivar, said he expected to attract lawmakers converting from other parties, expanding the PSL’s ranks to overtake the PT as the largest party in the lower house.

“We’re going to have a huge caucus, perfectly governable, to pass the bills that the society is demanding—to conclude the reforms that are underway,” Bivar said, referring to stalled efforts to trim public pensions and close a budget deficit.

Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni, the main political advisor to Bolsonaro, said his team was targeting individual lawmakers in parties opposed to the PT—including those in parties whose leaders do not yet support the right-winger.

“We’ll speak with anybody who wishes to talk with us now, which is interesting because many of them did not want to have a dialogue with us before the first-round vote,” Lorenzoni said.