Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro wins first round of presidential election

Former army captain’s pledge to end corruption and crime appealed to voters

Brazil's leftist presidential candidate Fernando Haddad vowed to form a government, as he faces off with right-wing front runner Jair Bolsonaro in the next round of voting. Video: Reuters

 

A far-right former army captain has won the first round of Brazil’s presidential election by a surprisingly large margin but fell just short of getting enough votes to avoid a second-round runoff against a leftist rival.

Jair Bolsonaro, whose last-minute surge almost gave him an electoral stunner, had 46 per cent compared to 29 per cent for former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, according to figures from Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal with 99.9 per cent of the vote counted.

He needed more than 50 per cent support to win outright.

Polls predicted Mr Bolsonaro would come out in front on Sunday, but he far outperformed expectations, blazing past competitors with more financing, institutional backing of parties and free air time on television.

Yearning for the past

Ultimately, Mr Bolsonaro’s strong showing reflects a yearning for the past as much as a sign of the future.

The candidate from the tiny Social and Liberal Party made savvy use of Twitter and Facebook to spread his message that only he could end the corruption, crime and economic malaise that has seized Brazil in recent years.

“I voted against thievery and corruption,” said Mariana Prado, a 54-year-old human resources expert. “I know that everyone promises to end these two things, but I feel Bolsonaro is the only one can help end my anxieties.”

The two candidates have painted starkly different visions of the country’s past and future.

Mr Bolsonaro has portrayed a nation in collapse and has advocated loosening gun ownership laws so individuals can fight off criminals, giving police a freer hand to use force and restoring “traditional” Brazilian values.

He capitalised on Brazilians’ deep anger with their traditional political class and “throw the bums out” rage after a massive corruption investigation revealed staggering levels of graft.

Beginning in 2014, prosecutors alleged that Brazil’s government was run like a cartel for years, with billions of dollars in public contracts handed out in exchange for kickbacks and bribes.

The Workers’ Party was at the centre of that investigation, and it has struggled to stage a comeback with Mr Haddad.

Roll back

Mr Haddad has promised to roll back president Michel Temer’s economic reforms that he says eroded workers’ rights, increase investment in social programmes and bring back the boom years Brazil experienced under his mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Though they come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, both Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Haddad ran campaigns based on nostalgia for a better time.

Mr Bolsonaro frequently evoked the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship amid promises of a return to traditional values and safer, simpler times.

In one of his last appeals to voters before Sunday’s voting, Mr Bolsonaro tweeted that he would “defend the family and the innocence of children, treat criminals as such and not get involved in corruption schemes”.

Mr Bolsonaro’s poll numbers have increased by about 15 per cent since he was stabbed on September 6th.

He was unable to campaign or participate in debates as he underwent surgeries during a three-week hospital stay, but instead brought messages directly to voters via Facebook and Twitter. – AP