Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, bested leftist Fernando Haddad in Sunday’s runoff, winning nearly 56 percent of the vote, according to official results with 92 percent of the ballots tallied.
Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, bested leftist Fernando Haddad in Sunday’s runoff, winning nearly 56 percent of the vote, according to official results with 92 percent of the ballots tallied. His win adds Latin America’s largest nation to a growing list of countries – from the United States to Hungary to the Philippines – where staunch right-wing nationalists have scored victories at the ballot box.
Bolsonaro ran a Trump-style campaign that made heavy use of social media, and promised to renegotiate the terms of trade deals, put economics before environmental preservation and bring an iron fist to fighting crime. He demonized opponents and polarized the nation with his history of denigrating women, gays and minorities.
“What I most want is to follow the will of God, and the Brazilian constitution,” Bolsonaro said via Facebook Live after winning the race. “We have everything to be a great nation, and if this is the will of God, we will be a great nation.”
Bolsonaro won a first round of the election earlier this month but failed to avoid a runoff. His challenger, Haddad — a one-term mayor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city — had depicted the election as as a fight to preserve democracy. Bolsonaro has been an outspoken defender of Brazil’s former military dictatorship, lamenting that it did not kill enough dissidents.
The election occurred as faith has collapsed in Brazil’s corruption-stained political class, the economy has floundered and gang killings have surged, leaving the nation feeling rudderless and besieged. Haddad ran largely as a stand-in for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the popular former president, whose reelection bid was upended when he landed in jail this year on corruption charges.
Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party is surrounded by supporters as he arrives to cast his vote at a polling station on Sunday in Sao Paulo. (Miguel Schincariol/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
“I voted for Bolsonaro because things can’t continue as they are,” said Alexandre Maciel, 44, an asset manager at a financial firm, after casting his ballot in Sao Paulo. “He’s the only one with the courage to do something different.”
Dismissed until recently as an unelectable rabble-rouser, Bolsonaro launched his campaign with no significant political allies, a small party machine and a paltry budget. He overcame those challenges with the power of social media, becoming the first presidential candidate in Brazil to bypass the country's powerful television networks. He spoke directly to voters through angry all-caps tweets and Facebook Live videos.
His simplistic get-tough solutions to Brazil's deep-rooted problems of crime and corruption played well online, and he developed a movement that some analysts compared to President Trump’s in 2016. Millions of devoted backers cheered the plain-talking Bolsonaro for articulating their rage. His left-wing opponents, he shouted, should be locked up. Police should use lethal force against criminals. The Chinese were buying up Brazil.
Even as Bolsonaro was sidelined from the campaign in September — when he was stabbed in the abdomen at a rally — his popularity grew.