Buenos Aires Times

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The challenge for Brazil’s presidential candidates: overcoming voter rejection

Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, Brazil’s far-right and leftist candidates duelling for the presidency, could not be further apart in terms of politics, promises and personality. But there’s one thing they share: big blocs of voters virulently opposed to seeing one or the other take power.

Saturday 13 October, 2018
Big blocs of voters are virulently opposed to seeing one or the other take power.
Big blocs of voters are virulently opposed to seeing one or the other take power. Foto:AP/ RICARDO BORGES

Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, Brazil’s far-right and leftist candidates duelling for the presidency, could not be further apart in terms of politics, promises and personality. But there’s one thing they share: big blocs of voters virulently opposed to seeing one or the other take power.

Yet the reasons for the rejection are different. Bolsonaro, the far-right 63-year-old former paratrooper and long-serving member of Congress, is detested by as many Brazilians as those who support him. He has made chilling comments demeaning women and blacks, making light of rape, criticising gays, favouring torture and expressing nostalgia for the military dictatorship that brutally ruled between 1964 and 1985.

Haddad, 55, is seen by many – especially better-off Brazilians – as representing a corrupt and incompetent Workers’ Party (PT) that was in charge between 2003 and 2016 when the country experienced a boom then a devastating bust.

Anti-Bolsonaro activists – women prominent among them – hold protests and post online slogans declaring “ele não” (“not him”). Anti-Haddad voters focus the hate they have against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom he stepped in for only a month ago after the former president – in prison for bribery and money-laundering and thus disqualified – finally abandoned his presidential bid.

A spate of violent incidents reported in the Brazilian media since last weekend’s first-round election has crystalised fears that the febrile atmosphere is tipping the country into dangerous territory. Many of the incidents involved Bolsonaro backers targeting Haddad supporters for assault and threats.

On Monday, a 63-year-old man was stabbed to death in a bar in northeastern Salvador for reportedly saying Brazilians preferred the PT. Elsewhere, a transgender woman, Julyanna Barbosa, told reporters she was attacked with an iron bar by street vendors in a western Rio district yelling “Bolsonaro must win to clear this trash off the street.” A Brazilian journalists’ association, ABRAJI, said it had recorded 62 physical assaults on media workers linked to the election. Both candidates sent out tweets disavowing the violence and calling for it to stop.

Bolsonaro, running on a law-and-order platform, easily came out ahead in the first round with 46 percent of the vote to Haddad’s 29 percent. A Datafolha voter intention survey published Wednesday credited him with 58 percent support, to 42 percent for the leftist candidate. Bolsonaro’s main pillars of support are better-educated, betteroff male Brazilians and millions who follow Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical churches. Haddad’s support is concentrated in the poorer, blacker northeast of the country, where many are still grateful to Lula for poverty-reduction successes. But both suffer major voter rejection, of more than 40 percent according to the Datafolha poll.

On Thursday, Haddad said he was confident of closing the gap. “We need only eight points to get to 50 [percent]. We have two weeks of work to get those eight points,” he told journalists.

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