Jair Bolsonaro, the outspoken farright presidential candidate who was wounded in a stabbing attack Thursday, successfully underwent surgery and was transferred to a hospital in São Paulo yesterday. Yet while his condition is now stable, Brazil’s presidential race is anything but.
Analysts and voters alike now are wondering what the impact of the shocking attack will be. While Bolsonaro will be hospitalised for at least a week, perhaps longer, his allies yesterday were arguing that the stabbing would only make him stronger in an increasingly polarised campaign ahead of October’s election.
Caputrued immediately after the attack, Adélio Bispo de Oliveira is the knifewielding man who stabbed the controversial congressman at a campaign rally Thursday as Bolsonaro was being carried on the shoulders of a supporter.
He suffered serious internal bleeding, according to surgeon Luiz Henrique Borsato. Doctors at the hospital, before his transfer, said the candidate was “in excellent clinical condition.”
While it was unclear how long Bolsonaro would be unable to campaign, his vice-presidential running mate, retired general Antônio Hamilton Mourão, told reporters that the candidate will “come out of this process stronger than he went in.” The candidate’s son echoed that belief in a tweet: “Jair Bolsonaro is stronger than ever and ready to be elected president of Brazil in the first round!” Flavio Bolsonaro wrote.
About a dozen candidates are competing in the October 7 voting. If no-one wins an outright majority, there will be a second round October 28.
Bolsonaro, a former Army captain who has promised to crack down on crime and corruption, has long argued that Brazil is in chaos and needs a strong hand. That message has resonated with many Brazilians, putting him in second place in polling, but his often derogatory comments about women, blacks and gays have also repulsed many.
In a video shot by a senator who visited him in hospital, Bolsonaro thanked his medical team in a weak voice and said: “I never did harm to anyone.”
Bispo de Oliveira, who was arrested within seconds of the attack, acted “for religious reasons, for political reasons, and also because of the prejudice Bolsonaro has always shown when he talks about race, religion and even women,” said his lawyer, Pedro Augusto Lima Possa.
On his Facebook page, the attacker – who is allegedly a member of the leftwing PSOL party – recently posted messages criticising Bolsonaro and supporting the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
“Our agents there said the attacker said he was ‘on a mission from God,’” said Luis Boudens, president of the National Federation of Federal Police. “Their impression is that they were not dealing with a mentally stable person.”
Federal police said that another suspect was detained in connection with the attack and questioned. That suspect was released overnight but remains under investigation.
Videos posted of the attack posted on social media show Bolsonaro on the shoulders of a supporter, looking out at the crowd and giving a thumbs-up with his left hand. He suddenly flinches and then goes out of view.
Other videos show supporters carrying him to a car and hitting a man who was apparently the attacker.
Despite uncertainly over the motive on Bolsonaro, Brazilians surged onto social media to argue over whether the attack supports the extremeright candidate’s assertions that the country is off the rails or whether his heated rhetoric contributed to inciting the attack.
“They made Bolsonaro a martyr,” said Jonatan Valente, a student who joined a small vigil for Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo. “I think the left shot itself in the foot because with this attack they will end up electing Bolsonaro.”
The attack shakes up what was already an unpredictable and contentious campaign. The man leading polls, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been barred from running by electoral authorities because he was convicted of corruption and is in jail.
On Thursday, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge rejected another appeal by the former presdient to overturn his ban on running in next month’s elections, citing the country’s ‘clean-slate’ law. The electoral court gave Lula’s Workers’ Party until September 12 to nominate a replacement and banned the 72-year-old from campaigning. His running mate, Fernando Haddad, of the Workers’ Party (PT) is expected to replace him.
At the same time, federal prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to open an investigation against sitting President Michel Temer on charges of corruption and money-laundering.
Local media said the request focuses around charges that Temer – a former vice-president who took office after thenpresident Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016 – allegedly received in 2014 a sum of 1.43 million reais (around US$240,000) from the construction giant Odebrecht, the company at the centre of the huge ‘Operation Car Wash’ (Lava Jato) corruption probe.
After more than four years of revelations of widespread corruption within Brazil’s political class, anger is running high in the country.
Bolsonaro, despite being a congressman since 1991, has harnessed much of the anger and presented himself as a maverick who will clean up a corrupt system.
He also promises to confront a surge in crime, in part by giving police a freer hand to shoot and kill while on duty. He speaks nostalgically about the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship and has promised to fill his government with current and former military leaders.
Thursday’s attack is not the first time in recent months that violence has touched politicians. In March, while Lula was campaigning in southern Brazil before his imprisonment, gunshots hit buses in his caravan, though no-one was hurt. Bolsonaro argued that attack was justified. Also in March, Marielle Franco, a black councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, was shot to death along with her driver.
With Lula ruled out, the latest polls from the Ibope Institute put Bolsonaro in a clear lead with 22 percent compared to 12 percent for environmentalist Marina Silva and centre-left runner Ciro Gomes. However, the poll, organised for TV Globo and the O Estado de S. Paulonewspaper, predicted Bolsonaro would be beaten by any of the other candidates in a second round. Some 44 percent of respondents said they would never vote for him.