Tuesday, August 4, 2020

LATIN AMERICA | 29-10-2018 01:31

Bolsonaro vows to 'change Brazil's destiny' after winning run-off

Far-right congressman takes 55% of vote, defeating Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad in second-round ballot.

Jair Bolsonaro, the brash, outspoken far-right congressman who has waxed nostalgic for Brazil's old military dictatorship, will be the next president of Latin America's largest nation.

The Social Liberal Party (PSL) candidate won the presidency of Argentina's giant neighbour on Sunday night as voters in Brazil looked beyond warnings that he would erode democracy, deciding to embrace a radical change after years of turmoil. 

Brazil's top electoral court said Bolsonaro won with just over 55 percent of the vote, compared with just under 45 percent for Fernando Haddad, of the Workers' Party (PT).

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain who cast himself as a political outsider, despite a 27-year career in Congress, has become the latest world leader to rise to power by mixing tough, often violent talk with hard-right positions.

In Brazil's presidential race, some issues loomed largest of all, voters said consistently in the polls.

First, a surge violence that has left the country breaking its own record for homicides – in 2017, 63,880 people were slain, according to a report from the Brazilian Forum of Public Security. Second, widespread anger at the political class after years of corruption, especially at the Worker's Party (PT) of former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Third, an economy that has struggled to recover after a punishing recession and a surge in violence.

"I feel in my heart that things will change," Sandra Coccato, a 68-year-old small business owner, said after she voted for Bolsonaro in São Paulo. "Lots of bad people are leaving, and lots of new, good people are entering. There's a light at the end of the tunnel."'

'Change Brazil's destiny'

Speaking via a Facebook Live event to the world, after news of his victory was announced by officials, Bolsonaro told his fellow Brazilians they would "change Brazil's destiny together."

The president-elect, who ran on promises to clean up Brazil and bring back "traditional values," promised to defend "the Constitution, democracy and freedom" in his address, as he rebuffed claims he would lead in an authoritarian manner. 

"That is a promise, not of a party, not the vain word of a man. It's a promise to God," he said, standing next to his wife and many cheering supporters.

Vowing to govern "following the Bible and the Constitution," he said the nation could not "continue flirting with socialism, with communism, populism and the extremism of the left."

He told Brazilians that he had received a call from some world leaders, including US President Donald Trump who wished him good luck.

Speaking to supporters from his home in Rio, Bolsonaro recounted how he was stabbed while campaigning last month and almost died.

"I was never alone. I always felt the presence of God and the force of the Brazilian people," he said.

ResistIn Rio de Janeiro, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters gathered on iconic Copacabana Beach, where fireworks went off. In São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, car horns could be heard honking and crowds celebrated as the results came in. Yet there were also reports of clashes between his backers and opponents in São Paulo.

Addressing supporters in São Paulo, his rival, Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party, did not concede or even mention Bolsonaro by name. Instead, his speech was a promise to resist.

"We have the responsibility to mount an opposition, putting national interests, the interests of the entire Brazilian people, above everything," Haddad said. "Brazil has never needed the exercise of citizenship more than right now."

He later added: "Don't be afraid. We are here. We are together!"

Bolsonaro went into Sunday the clear front-runner after getting 46 percent of the vote to Haddad's 29 percent in the first round of voting on October 7, when 13 contenders were on the ballot. Opinion polls in recent weeks had him leading by as much as 18 percentage points, but the race tightened in the last few days. Several Brazilian heavyweights came out against him, arguing that he was a direct risk to the world's fourth-largest democracy.

His rise was powered by disgust with the political system. In particular, many Brazilians were furious with the Workers' Party for its role in the mammoth graft scheme uncovered by the Operation Lava Jato ("Car Wash") investigation. Haddad struggled to build momentum with his promises of a return to the boom times by investing in health and education and reducing poverty.


Along the way, Bolsonaro's candidacy also raised serious concerns that he would roll back civil rights and weaken institutions in what remains a young democracy. He frequently disparaged women, gays and blacks, and said he would name military men to his Cabinet.

Minutes after he was elected, several international human rights groups put out statements demanding that Bolsonaro respect Brazil's democracy.

In a highly unusual moment earlier Sunday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Jose Dias Toffoli, read out part of the Constitution to reporters after he voted.

"The future president must respect institutions, must respect democracy, the rule of law, the judiciary branch, the national Congress and the legislative branch," Toffoli said in remarks many took to be a rebuke of Bolsonaro and his more extreme positions.

As late as Sunday morning, Haddad was still holding out hope that he could win after receiving several key endorsements late Saturday.

Among them was a popular former Supreme Court justice, Joaquim Barbosa, who tweeted support for Haddad, saying Bolsonaro's candidacy scared him. Likewise, former Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, one of the biggest crusaders against corruption in the Workers' Party in recent years, also endorsed Haddad.

One of the most important endorsements, particularly for young people, came from YouTube personality Felipe Neto, whose channel has nearly 27 million followers.

Neto said he was troubled by Bolsonaro's comments a week ago that "red" leftists would be run out of Brazil.

"In 16 years of the [Workers' Party], I have been robbed, but never threatened," Neto said on Twitter.


The past few years in Brazil have been exceptionally turbulent. In 2016, then-President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party was impeached and removed from office on charges that many on the left felt were politically motivated. The economy suffered a two-year recession and is only beginning to emerge, with growth stagnant and unemployment high.

Scores of politicians and executives have been jailed in the Car Wash corruption investigation, which uncovered a multibillion-dollar scheme to trade public contracts and official favours for bribes and kickbacks.

That instability unleashed sharp anger against the political class but also revealed deep divisions in Brazilian society, and the campaign was the most polarized in decades. There were numerous reports of politically motivated violence, especially directed at gay people.

Many observers predicted that a newcomer would emerge to harness the anti-establishment anger. Instead, support coalesced around Bolsonaro, who at the margins in Congress painted himself as just the strong man Brazil needed to dismantle a failing system.

Bolsonaro's campaign first gained traction with his promises to go after violent crime in a country that leads the world in homicides and where many Brazilians live in daily fear of muggings or burglaries. But his vows to loosen gun laws and give police a freer hand to use force have also raised concerns that his presidency could lead to a bloody crackdown and an erosion of civil rights.

The campaign gained momentum by winning over much of the business community with promises of enacting market-friendly reforms that would reduce the size of the Brazilian state, including cutting ministries and privatising state companies.

"I hope that with these elections we're not signing a blank check again, and that we don't close our eyes to everything that has happened," said Jose Nobrega, a 53-year-old waiter in Mare, one of Rio's most violent neighbourhoods.


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