Far-right Jair Bolsonaro wins Brazil presidential race

Lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidential election, promising to clean up politics, shrink the state, and crack down on crime, in a dramatic swing away from the left in the world’s fourth-largest democracy

Far-right Jair Bolsonaro wins Brazil presidential race
Jair Bolsonaro - Photo: Ricardo Moraes/REUTERS
English 29/10/2018 14:40 Reuters Brasilia/Rio de Janeiro Anthony Boadle & Gabriel Stargardter Actualizada 15:25

Far-right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, promising to clean up politics, shrink the state, and crack down on crime, in a dramatic swing away from the left in the world’s fourth-largest democracy.

The former army captain has alarmed many with vows to sweep political opponents off the map and comments denigrating women, gays, and racial minorities.

He will be the first president with a background in the armed forces since the end of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, which he has publicly praised. He has tapped retired generals to serve as his vice president and run key ministries.

In his first public comments after his landslide victory, he pledged to respect democratic principles but said he wanted to change the country’s direction.

“We cannot continue flirting with socialism, communism, populism, and leftist extremism. [...] We are going to change the destiny of Brazil,” Bolsonaro said in an acceptance address, promising to root out graft and stem a tide of violent crime.

An outspoken admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro also pledged to realign Brazil with more advanced economies rather than regional allies, overhauling diplomatic priorities after nearly a decade and a half of leftist rule.

Trump called Bolsonaro to wish him good luck soon after his electoral victory, auguring closer political ties between the two largest nations in the Americas—both now led by conservative populists promising to overturn the political establishment.

Bolsonaro won 55.2% of votes in the run-off election against left-wing hopeful Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT)’s 44.8%, according to electoral authority TSE.

The 63-year-old congressman’s rise has been propelled by rejection of the leftist PT that ran Brazil for 13 of the last 15 years. The party was ousted from power in 2016 in the midst of a deep recession and political graft scandal.

Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters cheered and set off fireworks outside his home in Rio de Janeiro’s luxurious beachfront Barra de Tijuca neighborhood as his victory was announced. In Brazil’s commercial capital of São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s win was greeted with fireworks and the honking of car horns.

Investors have also cheered Bolsonaro’s ascent, relieved that he could keep the PT out of power and hopeful that he would carry out fiscal reforms proposed by his orthodox economic guru.

However, many Brazilians are concerned that Bolsonaro, an admirer of the dictatorship and a defender of its use of torture on leftist opponents, will trample on human rights, curtail civil liberties, and muzzle freedom of speech.

Human Rights Watch called on Brazilian judges, prosecutors, media, and civil society to stand up against any attempt by Bolsonaro to “erode the democratic rights and institutions Brazil has painstakingly built in the last three decades.”

In his acceptance speech, Bolsonaro promised to govern according to the Bible and the country’s constitution.

Brazil’s rapidly expanding evangelical congregations have created a conservative political force, which Bolsonaro tapped into by decrying sex education in schools and pushing back against gay rights.

He has vowed to crack down on crime in Brazil’s cities and farm belt by granting police more autonomy to shoot suspected criminals. He also wants to let more Brazilians buy weapons to fight crime.

Bolsonaro said he would “unite Brazil” by cutting bureaucracy and red tape for businesses. He said he was committed to fiscal discipline and called for the early elimination of the federal government’s budget deficit.

“We are going to think in terms of more Brazil and less Brasilia,” he said, referring to the nation’s capital where he will take office on January 1.

Bolsonaro’s rise follows conservative electoral victories in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru, pushing the continent to the right and undermining support for the authoritarian socialist regime in Venezuela.