Bolsonaro v. Haddad: Brazilian election goes to a runoff

Jair Bolsonaro

The main political adviser to Brazil's far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro said he will work Monday to stitch together alliances with individual lawmakers to ensure a runoff victory for the former Army captain.

Bolsonaro's once-tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL) was poised to land 51 of the 513 seats in the lower house of Congress, according to projections by investment firm XP Investimentos, trailing only his rival Fernando Haddad's leftist Workers' Party (PT), which is expected to take 57 seats.

A combination of file photos shows presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro (L) attending a television debate at the Rede TV studio in Osasco, Brazil August 17, 2018 and Fernando Haddad attending a televised debate in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 26, 2018. If he doesn't, he heads to a runoff with the second-place candidate on October 28. Bolsonaro has often praised Trump, and his campaign took many pages from the US president's playbook, from bashing the mainstream media and political class to using the candidate's adult children as proxies.

But Bolsonaro's fiery anti-democratic rhetoric of the past, his stance that Brazil's already notoriously violent police should kill as many criminals as possible, and his desire to rollback progressives' gains in recent years have enraged a large number of voters. "We need to unify Brazil, to pacify it", he said.

That changed when Bolsonaro arrived in March - making it his ninth party affiliation.

Some Bolsonaro supporters called on him to moderate his message to ensure victory, but the candidate said he would not ease up on an anti-establishment message that has resonated with voters.

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Voting Sunday revealed the deep divisions generated by Bolsonaro and Haddad.

Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly magazine, said the results underscored "the total disappearance of the Brazilian centre" and that Bolsonaro seemed nearly certain to glide to victory. Signs that Bolsonaro could win enough support in Congress to push through his agenda added to enthusiasm.

Bolsonaro has painted a nation in collapse, where drug traffickers and politicians steal with equal impunity, and moral rot has set in.

But Brazil is split over what cost to its democracy it may pay if it chooses Bolsonaro, a long-time congressman who has repeatedly praised the 1964-85 military regime but now vows to stick strongly to democratic ideals, a conversion many question. He has promised to fight long-standing inequalities, scrap a major labour reform passed previous year and invest more in education.

Some voters - particularly women - carried "Not Him" placards to polling stations in opposition to Bolsonaro. "A miracle would be for Bolsonaro to see the light and govern the country for the people, for him to become less radical".

The former Army captain, dubbed "Tropical Trump" because of his nationalist agenda and anti-establishment tirades, won almost half the votes thanks to a surge in support sparked by growing anger at corruption and antipathy towards scandal-plagued traditional parties in Latin America's largest nation.

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