Far-right law­maker emerges as fron­trun­ner in Brazil

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY PETER PRENGA­MAN AND SARAH DILORENZO

RIO DE JANEIRO

Two months ago, few peo­ple in Brazil other than Jair Bol­sonaro’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers be­lieved the far-right con­gress­man had more than an out­side shot of win­ning the race to lead Latin Amer­ica’s largest na­tion. Now Bol­sonaro holds a strong lead in the polls head­ing into Sun­day’s runoff.

As re­cently as Au­gust, for­mer Pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva had been ahead in the polls for a year de­spite a cor­rup­tion con­vic­tion and a jail sen­tence that be­gan in April.

Even though Bol­sonaro al­ways placed sec­ond in the polls, his sup­port hov­ered around 30 per­cent and an­a­lysts said he had likely reached his ceil­ing. His his­tory of com­ments of­fen­sive to women, blacks and gays, com­bined with his praise of the 1964-1985 mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and a largely un­re­mark­able 27 years in Con­gress cre­ated the gen­eral im­pres­sion that, even if he sur­vived the first round of vot­ing, he would ul­ti­mately be de­feated against al­most any com­peti­tor in the sec­ond round.

But then sev­eral things hap­pened that helped el­e­vate the for­mer army cap­tain to front-run­ner: Bol­sonaro got stabbed and nearly died, tra­di­tional coali­tions on the left and right col­lapsed and it be­came ap­par­ent that so­cial me­dia had re­placed tele­vi­sion air­time as the most dom­i­nant force in the elec­tions.

Those events re­ver­ber­ated in a na­tion hun­gry for rad­i­cal change af­ter years of tur­moil that pro­voked rage at the rul­ing class.

In the first round of vot­ing on Oct. 7, Bol­sonaro per­formed far be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions, nearly win­ning out­right with 46 per­cent of the vote, com­pared with 29 per­cent for Fer­nando Had­dad of the Work­ers’ Party. Polls ahead of Sun­day’s runoff showed him with 56 per­cent of voter in­ten­tions com­pared with 42 per­cent for Had­dad.

Through it all, Bol­sonaro’s sim­ple cam­paign promises to clean up cor­rup­tion and con­front ris­ing crime with bru­tal force have res­onated with a pop­u­la­tion hun­gry for new ap­proaches.

“How did Don­ald

Trump be­come pres­i­dent in the United States?” said Car­los Man­hanelli, po­lit­i­cal mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist and chair­man of the Brazi- lian As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­tants. “It’s ba­si­cally the same thing. Bol­sonaro is speak­ing to the minds of vot­ers. He isn’t wor­ried about be­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.”

The ex­pected front against Bol­sonaro hasn’t just failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize, but in­stead ap­pears to be go­ing the other way. That was un­der­scored when Sen­a­tor-elect Cid Gomes, the brother of third-place pres­i­den­tial fin­isher Ciro Gomes, blasted Work­ers’ Party sup­port­ers at a rally in sup­port of Had­dad af­ter the first round.

Gomes, a mem­ber of the cen­ter-left Demo­cratic La­bor Party, blamed the Work­ers’ Party for “cre­at­ing” Bol­sonaro be­cause it had been un­will­ing to ad­mit its role in the so­called “Car­wash” cor­rup­tion scan­dal, con­sid­ered by many to be the largest such scheme in world his­tory.

While the elec­toral court’s de­ci­sion on Sept. 1 to bar da Silva’s can­di­dacy was long ex­pected, the party did not put Had­dad for­ward as his re­place­ment un­til Sept. 11, less than a month be­fore the first round of vot­ing.

“Had­dad should have been in­tro­duced much ear­lier,” said Ser­gio Praca, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion think tank, ar­gu­ing that the rel­a­tively un­known can­di­date had lit­tle time to help the party get past the stain of cor­rup­tion.

On the right, the tra­di­tional pow­er­house of the Brazil­ian So­cial Democ­racy Party never gained trac­tion. The rea­sons were twofold: Many party mem­bers have been tainted by the cor­rup­tion scan­dal and its stan­dard-bearer, for­mer Sao Paulo Gov. Ger­aldo Al­ck­min, failed to gen­er­ate ex­cite­ment de­spite hav­ing the lion’s share of free air­time, awarded based on party rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Con­gress.

While all 13 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates were ma­neu­ver­ing for a fi­nal push, the race was up­ended on Sept. 6, when Bol­sonaro was stabbed while cam­paign­ing in Juiz de Fora.

For Bol­sonaro, the neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence gave his cam­paign a huge boost. Although he was hos­pi­tal­ized for three weeks and couldn’t cam­paign in the streets, his or­deal dom­i­nated me­dia cov­er­age. That was par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant for a can­di­date who was only al­lot­ted a few sec­onds of free tele­vi­sion air­time each day.

In­stead of hav­ing to de­bate or de­fend his ideas, Bol­sonaro stayed in his hospi­tal bed and con­tin­ued to ham­mer away at his cam­paign themes via Face­book Lives and Twit­ter.

Had­dad tried to shame Bol­sonaro into de­bat­ing, say­ing he would be will­ing to meet his ri­val any­where. He and sup­port­ers also force­fully ar­gued that Bol­sonaro rep­re­sented a clear risk to Brazil’s young democ­racy. But those con­cerns ap­pear to have been largely drowned out on so­cial me­dia, where Bol­sonaro’s cam­paign out­ma­neu­vered Had­dad’s.

Be­yond nu­mer­ous daily posts and tweets by Bol­sonaro and his three older sons, all politi­cians, the cam­paign has un­der­taken a mas­sive ef­fort on mes­sag­ing ser­vice What­sApp. In re­cent weeks, Brazil­ians have been bom­barded by mes­sages that ex­tol Bol­sonaro and con­demn Had­dad, of­ten mak­ing out­ra­geous claims.

Along the way, Bol­sonaro’s cam­paign may have bro­ken cam­paign fi­nance laws. An in­ves­tiga­tive re­port by the daily news­pa­per Folha de S. Paulo last week al­leged that friendly busi­ness­men were bankrolling the What­sApp ef­fort, lead­ing to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the elec­toral court. Bol­sonaro has been re­spond­ing ever since with the kinds of ag­gres­sive tweets and videos that thrill sup­port­ers.

The news­pa­per “is Brazil’s big­gest fake news,” Bol­sonaro said in a video trans­mit­ted Sun­day to sup­port­ers at a rally. “You guys will not get any more gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing money. Sold out press, my con­do­lences.”

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