Brazil’s Trump Cruises to Win in First Round of Presidential Elections

Brazil’s Social Liberal Party candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right presidential candidate in Brazil, won nearly 47 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, falling just short of an outright victory and setting up a runoff later this month with leftist Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, who won 29 percent of the vote.

A former Army captain and seven-term congressman, Bolsonaro looks well positioned to win the presidency on October 28 given the strength he showed in the first round and the history of Brazilian runoffs. In the more than 30 years since military rule ended in Brazil, every election that has gone to a second round was won by the leader of the first round.

Haddad, a former education minister, will attempt in the next few weeks to emerge from the shadow of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The 72-year-old leftist was leading in polls earlier this year but could not run for president after a conviction on corruption charges. Haddad’s second-place finish Sunday was in no small part due to Lula’s endorsement—“From now on, Haddad will be Lula for millions of Brazilians,” the former president wrote to his supporters — but he’s also fashioned himself as more of a moderate than Lula as he tries to build a coalition to defeat Bolsonaro.

Often compared to Donald Trump, Bolsonaro sold Brazilians on a message of law and order after a 2017 that saw a record 63,880 murders in the country. Bolsonaro himself was the victim of an attack last month, when he was stabbed at a rally. He’s promised to root out corruption and put people back to work in a nation where unemployment is more than 12 percent. Bolsonaro has also made guns a campaign issue, vowing to loosen restrictions in response to high crime rates. Some of his supporters showed their support for that stance by taking handguns into the voting booth and using them to cast their vote for Bolsonaro.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro has won praise from supporters, and derision from opponents, for his unfiltered mouth. “A gay son is the result of a lack of beatings,” he once said. He told a female member of Congress that she was too ugly to rape. He’s called immigrants “scum.”

Bolsonaro supporters even talk about him like Trump’s supporters talk about the U.S. president. “Even if he is a little crazy, someone needs to bring change,” a 63-year-old woman told the Washington Post.

Women protest Bolsonaro. Photo: MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images

His detractors, who’ve taken to referring to him as “the thing” on social media, have showed up in the streets in recent weeks to declare #EleNão, or #NotHim. A rally on September 29 drew hundreds of thousands, most of them women. “This conservative wave, which has really always existed in Brazil, needs to come to an end. Feminism needs to become more prominent in our society. Women need to be seen and treated as complete and equal people,” a 37-year-old demonstrator told the L.A. Times.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro is adept with social media. He’s built his following with the help of WhatsApp and Facebook, which he took to Sunday night to question the election results and use language that might sound familiar: “Let’s make Brazil great! Let’s be proud of our homeland once again!”

Brazil’s Trump Cruises to Win in First Round of Elections