Brazil looks to be charging headlong into a two-horse presidential race between the far right and the left in what has been an at times surreal and unpredictable campaign.
But while right-wing Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Fernando Haddad head opinion polls, they’re also the most hated candidates, something that analyst Thomaz Favaro believes could pose a problem for the next president’s credibility.
“The fact that these options generate so much rejection can have serious consequences for the country,” said Favaro, from the Control Risk consultancy firm.
“It brings a problem of legitimacy for the next government which will struggle to implement its reforms... whoever wins, he’ll come up against a lot of resis - tance in Congress.”
In the latest opinion poll by Ibope, Bolsonaro led with 28 percent while Haddad climbed to second on 19 percent just a week after polling a mere eight, directly after his nomination by the Workers’ Party (PT) as their replacement candidate. That came after former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was barred from standing because he is serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.
But 42 percent of respondents said they would never vote for Bolsonaro – a figure that has remained consistent amidst accusations of racism, sexism and homophobia against the ex-army captain over some controversial comments – while 29 percent similarly reject Haddad.
In a further twist, should those two get through the October 7 first round to the run-off second round three weeks later, Ibope’s poll says they would finish level with 40 percent each.
A reader who wrote in to the financial newspaper Valor Econômico summed up the mood with this comment: “I will never forgive Bolsonaro for forcing me to vote PT.”
LESSER OF EVILS?
When it comes to the second round of voting it may well be a case of who voters hate the least rather than like the most.
“Unless someone [else] bounces back, we will have an election like 1989 when Fernando Collor, a politician from an insignificant party, fought a duel with Lula,” and won, said Lincoln Secco, an analyst and historian at the University of São Paulo.
The uncertainty of an election in which the initial frontrunner was languishing in jail while his main opponent recovered in hospital, shows no sign of abating. The Lula soap opera was a long drawn-out affair and while the 72-year-old premier from 2003-2010 refused to give up on his bid to stand in the election, his conviction for accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe eventually ruled him out of the running.
Even while he tried to exhaust every appeal process available to him, Bolsonaro’s fate took a dark turn as he was stabbed earlier this month by a leftwing activist while out on the campaign trail.
He has had two operations and remains in hospital recovering, with his ability to return to the campaign trail even before the October 28 second round vote looking increasingly unlikely.
UNTAINTED BY GRAFT
There’s nothing new about right versus left presidential races, particularly in Brazil, but the main protagon ists a re not what the country is used to.
On the one hand, Bolsona ro ha s openly expressed admiration for the much-hated military dictatorship from 1964-85 and its use of torture, while Haddad, 55, is a virtual unknown outside of São Paulo, where he was once the mayor.
Another advantage for Bolsonaro and Haddad is that they haven’t been tainted by the wide-ranging corruption scandal that brought down Lula and saw his hand-picked successor as president, Dilma Rousseff impeached.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has been seducing his supporters with videos taken from his hospital bed. The 63-year-old has also “capitalised on his anti-establishment discourse, capturing voters who view the traditional parties as compromised,” said Favaro.
His “tough line on crime has also won him many votes amongst those worried about security.”
“The conciliatory language of the traditional right and pragmatic center have lost their popular appeal,” Secco said.
And that can only benefit those at the extremes.