RIO DE JANEIRO – A 63-year-old populist renegade provoked a wave of anger among Brazil's presidential electors on Sunday, marking the most dramatic right-wing turn in South America since the end of military dictatorships in the Cold War era.
Jair Bolsonaro, a far right MP and former army captain, beat leftist Fernando Haddad at the end of the second round. It collected about 55% of the votes, according to the official results, with 98% of the votes counted. His victory adds the largest nation in Latin America to a growing list of countries – from the United States to Hungary to the Philippines – where fierce right-wing nationalists have won victories at the polls.
Bolsonaro ran a similar campaign to Donald Trump's social media campaign. He promised to tackle the corruption of the political elites and to take the iron fist to the fight against crime. He demonized his opponents and polarized the country with his past of denigrating women, homosexuals and minorities.
In a Facebook Live address immediately after his victory, Bolsonaro targeted his political opponents, including members of the Center-Left Workers Party, whom he threatened with jail. He said Brazil could not continue to "flirt with socialism, communism, populism and left-wing extremism".
But in a later speech to the nation, he called for unity, stating, "This country belongs to us all, Brazilians who were born here and those who are Brazilian in the soul. Brazil is a country of diverse opinions, colors and orientations. The law is for everyone. "
Bolsonaro won the first round of elections earlier this month but failed to avoid a second round. His rival, Haddad, mayor of Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, described the elections as a struggle for the preservation of democracy. Bolsonaro was a strong supporter of the former military dictatorship of Brazil, lamenting that it does not kill enough dissidents.
The election took place as faith collapsed in corrupt Brazil's political class, the economy collapsed and gang-related killings spread, leaving the nation without a government and besieged. Mr. Haddad mainly replaced Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former popular president, whose bid for reelection had been suspended when he was jailed this year for corruption. Haddad received about 45% of the votes.
"I voted for Bolsonaro because things can not go on as they are," said Alexandre Maciel, 44, an asset manager in a finance company, after voting in Sao Paulo. "He's the only one with the courage to do something different."
Licensed until recently as an indelible arousal, Bolsonaro launched his campaign without a significant political ally, with a small party machine and a derisory budget. He overcame these difficulties with the power of social media, addressing voters directly through edgy tweets and Facebook Live videos.
His simplistic and resolute solutions to the deeply rooted problems of crime and corruption in Brazil have worked well online, and he has developed a movement of unconditional supporters including pro-gun and evangelical voters that some analysts liken to Trump supporters in 2016. Outside of Bolsonaro's home in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, his supporters rallied to the green and yellow flag of the Brazilian flag, pointing their fingers in the form of a gun – the characteristic gesture of Bolsonaro.
Even though Bolsonaro was dismissed from the campaign in September – after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally – his popularity increased.
Bolsonaro win marks turning point for Brazil, a nation Left Labor Party has dominated most of the past decade. He was a passionate advocate of the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. He proclaimed himself a political outsider, despite seven congressional terms. For decades, he has survived on the margins of society, publishing word for word to denigrate women, gays and people of color.
He once said that a woman politician was too ugly to rape and suggested that having a dead son was better than a homosexual son. Last year, he suggested that some descendants of African slaves were fat and lazy.
Bolsonaro has become a mainstream in recent months, celebrating Brazilian "diversity" in tweets.
But he convinced his followers that he will reverse the status quo. To reduce crime, he called for the relaxation of firearms legislation so that civilians could combat shooting. To stimulate the economy, indigenous lands and the vast Amazonian region should be open to development, he said.
"In this election, it was obvious that someone who could build a credible story of difference would be good. Bolsonaro understood it well, "said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo. "He was politically incorrect, a little weird. But it's a way for him to distinguish himself from others. "
Bolsonaro sometimes seemed to imitate Trump, to whom he had lavished praise. He promised to make Brazil "big" and chose to make war on the media rather than "false information".
"He was trying to look like Trump," said Marcos Nobre, a political strategist based in Sao Paulo. "His message to the electorate was:" If the United States has elected an asset, Brazil too can do it. "
Bolsonaro grew up in a large German Italian family with five siblings in Eldorado, a town located in the rural area of northern Sao Paulo. At a time when the army tortured, exiled and murdered other members of his generation to oppose his policy, Bolsonaro saw the army as a means of go out. At the age of 18, he was accepted into the military preparatory school and then to his Brazilian counterpart at the West Point US Military Academy.
Bolsonaro left the army in 1988 to embark on politics. As a member of Congress, he scared his peers of his violent speech by claiming in 1999 the assassination of the then-elected president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Although it has only increased in the past two months, the Bolsonaro phenomenon began to take off two years ago, observers said. Its popularity has grown in urban areas, where contributors have become voracious consumers of its missives on Twitter and WhatsApp. It has spread to pastoralists suffering from squatter invasions on rural farms. White men and wealthy voters, eager to turn the page after a decade of left-wing government, rallied to Bolsonaro's side.
His rise surprised many people.
Ten years ago, Bolsonaro "resembled a burlesque show, a clown," said Rubens Soares, a longtime journalist at Folha de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil's largest news agencies.
Yet, said Soares, he noted a fundamental change last year. The supporters at the Bolsonaro rallies loved in a way that he had never seen before in Brazil.
"They would carry it on the streets," said Soares. "You could say that something was happening."
Long regarded as an economic protectionist, Bolsonaro turned around during the campaign embracing the free market. But he has always played with the nationalists, denigrating China for having "bought" Brazil. Twice divorced and now married to his third wife, he nonetheless proclaimed himself a supporter of family values and his opposition to gay rights and the legalization of abortion helped defeat the evangelicals. , a powerful electoral base.
But corruption and the Workers Party were his main targets. Since the restoration of democracy here in 1985, two presidents have been indicted, one in prison and the Brazilian leader has been indicted for corruption, an accusation he denies. A third of the lower house's members are under investigation for corruption, largely related to a large system of bribes involving some of the country's largest corporations. The outsider-cleans-house platform of Bolsonaro seduced Brazilians.
While some Brazilians began to consider Bolsonaro as their hero, others seemed to forget his laudatory statements in the search for a significant change.
"If there had been another worthy candidate, I would not have voted for him," said Jose Colares, 51, a dentist in São Paulo, about Bolsonaro after voting Sunday. for the far right candidate. "He said a lot of rubbish, but he is the least of the evils."
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified the occupation of Alexandre Maciel. He is an asset manager in a financial company and not a manager in an oncology center.