RIO DE JANEIRO – A 63-year-old neo-populist stormed voters to win Sunday's presidency of Brazil, marking the most dramatic right-wing turn in South America since the end of wartime military dictatorships cold.
Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, defeated leftist Fernando Haddad on Sunday, winning nearly 56% of the vote, according to an official count of 92% of the votes cast. 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.
"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."
Proponents of Bolsonaro fired fireworks on the sidewalks and embarked on the chorus of the national anthem as a result of the results.
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. Haddad, mayor of Sao Paulo appointed for a term, is the largest city in Brazil and has trouble connecting to the electorate. He has served as a substitute for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former popular president, whose candidacy for reelection was overthrown when he was jailed this year for corruption.
Haddad, from the same workers' party as Lula, followed Bolsonaro by 18 points in the polls just two weeks ago. But he has gathered support from those who fear a Bolsonaro presidency.
"For the first time in 32 years of voting, a candidate has scared me. That's why I'll vote for Fernando Haddad, "tweeted Joaquim Barbosa, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Brazil and anti-corruption advocate, said on Twitter on Saturday.
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 challenges with the power of social media, becoming Brazil's first presidential candidate to bypass the country's powerful television networks. He spoke directly to voters through angry tweets and live videos on Facebook.
Its simplistic and hard-to-solve solutions to deep-rooted crime and corruption issues in Brazil have worked well online, and it has developed a movement that some analysts compare to that of President Trump in 2016. Millions of dedicated supporters have applauded the Bolsonaro who spoke well in public for articulating their anger. His opponents on the left, he cried, should be locked up. Police should use lethal force against criminals. The Chinese bought Brazil.
Even though Bolsonaro was dismissed from the campaign in September – after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally – his popularity increased.
Bolsonaro Cups a rare figure in Brazilian politics, dominated for fifteen years by the Left Workers Party. A former army officer, he remained a passionate advocate of the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. He declared himself a political outsider, despite seven terms in Congress. 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 moved into the mainstream in recent months, celebrating Brazil's "diversity" in tweets and promising: "We are going to unite people".
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 campaigned to address a specific set of internal problems – corruption, crime, the anemic economy. But some argue that the success of Bolsonaro would not have been possible until now if it was Trump's age.
Bolsonaro sometimes seemed to imitate the American leader, 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.
In the military, Bolsonaro has developed a reputation for "excessive financial and economic ambition," according to the military archives of the time. In 1986, he was imprisoned for two weeks after publishing an editorial in the prominent national weekly Veja, in which he demanded higher salaries for officers.
"He wrote what we all thought about at the time," said retired General Paulo Chagas, who served in the army at the same time as Bolsonaro. "It was a difficult economic period for us military."
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.
"Thanks to the vote, nothing will change in this country," said Bolsonaro at the time in a television interview. "Unfortunately, it will only change the day a civil war breaks out and does the job that the military regime did not do. Kill some 30,000 people, starting with [Cardoso]. Innocent people will die, okay. But in every war, innocent people die.
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. "The reporters were walking past his desk while he shouted nonsense."
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."
As Bolsonaro escalated, his candidacy emboldened extremists who, according to human rights groups, have staged dozens of attacks in recent weeks against gay men, lesbians, feminists , leftists, journalists and others. If Bolsonaro wins, some fear more political violence. His own rhetoric is often very inflammatory.
"Let these red thugs off the map of Brazil," Bolsonaro said at a lively rally on Sao Paulo's main main artery earlier this month, citing his leftist opponents. "We are the majority! The real Brazil!
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.
During the campaign, supporters of Bolsonaro funded a mass smear campaign against his leftist opponent, Haddad, on WhatsApp, the popular messaging platform, according to a survey conducted by Folha de Sao Paulo. Bolsonaro called Folha's allegations "false news".
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 article incorrectly identified the occupation of Alexander Maciel. He is an asset manager in a financial company and not a manager in an oncology center.