Far-Right Candidate Wins Brazil’s Presidential Election

Far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro has won Brazil’s presidential election, raising fears of a rollback of civil rights and free speech.

With nearly all of the ballots counted, Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party won about 56 percent of the votes in Sunday’s runoff. His left-leaning opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party, took 44 percent.

Bolsonaro is a former army captain whose far-right rhetoric and promises, and feisty personality earned him the nickname of “Tropical Trump.”

Like the U.S. president, he likes to paint himself as an anti-establishment outsider. But Bolsonaro spent 27 years in the Brazilian congress.

His win is a voter rejection of the leftist administrations that have governed Brazil for most of the last 15 years. Latin America’s largest economy has been stuck in recession since 2014. The political establishment has been rocked by a high-level corruption scandal, and crime and murder rates have spiked.

Bolsonaro campaigned for change, describing himself as a law and order candidate who will give police more freedom to crack down on crime.

But many Brazilians are disturbed by his professed admiration of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and for offensive comments about gays, blacks, and women.

They fear a Bolsonaro government will trample on human rights, civil liberties, and free speech — especially by leftists.

Bolsonaro drew protests after claiming a former dictatorship’s main mistake was not killing more people, and that if elected, he would shut down Brazil’s National Congress. Many Brazilian military leaders reject such talk.

“In terms of the military coming back, I think this is a very remote possibility, if it is a possibility. I think that constitutional Brazil, although imperfect (and) in need of improvement (and) adjustment, will likely prove resilient,” said political analyst Paulo Sotero, the director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Brazil’s government was a military dictatorship from 1964 until the establishment of democracy in 1985. During that period, the military was accused of executing and torturing opponents, and stifling dissent in the name of preventing the spread of communism.

Bolsonaro has been denounced for his offensive comments, such as saying to a female member of Congress that she was not pretty enough to be raped.  

A mentally disturbed assailant stabbed him at a campaign rally in September, causing intestinal damage and sending his poll numbers higher.  

Many business people support Bolsonaro’s free market economic positions, which would stimulate growth by privatizing state-owned enterprises, reduce regulations, and making it easier for foreign investors to enter the Brazilian market.

“He will be judged by his capacity to make the Brazilian economy grow again, sustainably, and create jobs,” analyst Sotero said.

Christian evangelicals also support Bolsonaro’s promise to end sex education in the schools, keep abortion illegal, and end same-sex marriage.

Brian Padden contributed to this report.

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