Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Brazilians have started voting in the presidential elections, the run-up to which was bitterly polarised and turbulent and included a failed assassination attempt of one candidate, another leading the race from prison, mass protests and endless wave of fake news.
Sunday’s vote also comes amid a backdrop of high-profile corruption scandals, rising violence and recession.
Leading the polls is Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right politician and former army captain whose disparaging comments about homosexuals, women and other minorities disgusted many voters. His chauvinism, political incorrectness and tough-on-crime postures appeal to others.
Last year, nearly 64,000 murders took place in Brazil. The vast majority of these remain unsolved and public security is one of the major concerns going into the election.
Bolsonaro – who openly praises the country’s brutal 21-year military dictatorship as well as Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet – pledged to give Brazil’s police additional rights to kill suspected criminals.
He is often described as a hybrid between United States President Donald Trump – for whom Bolsonaro has expressed his admiration – and Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody war against drug dealers and addicts has left thousands dead.
Running in second is Fernando Haddad, the centre-left former mayor of Sao Paulo, who stepped in to take over the Workers’ Party candidacy after former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva – who was leading the race – was barred from running because he is in jail serving a sentence for corruption.
Second round likely
Bolsonaro had a clear lead over Haddad in opinion polls released on Saturday. But the lead was less than the 50 percent needed for him to win the election in the first round.
Datafolha predicted the first round as Bolsonaro leading with 40 percent and Haddad trailing with 25 percent. Ibope, another polling institute, had the figures at 41 percent and 25 percent respectively.
A first-round victory for Bolsonaro is still considered unlikely. However, analysts are refusing to rule it out altogether given a recent surge in support despite a series of negative media coverage and mass street protests.
A second-round runoff is scheduled for October 28.
In a Facebook Live broadcast on Saturday night, Bolsonaro blasted socialism, communism and political correctness, while reiterating his plans to open up Brazil’s Amazon to mining interests and also relax gun laws.
“Let’s liquidate the race in the first round,” he said, sitting next to his eldest son Flavio, who is now running for Senate, elections for which are also taking place on Sunday.
Former Brazil footballer Ronaldinho took to Twitter in support and posted: “For a better Brazil, I want peace, security and someone who gives us back joy. I chose to live in Brazil, and I want a better Brazil for everyone!!!”
Muito obrigado, Ronaldinho! É uma honra! 🇧🇷 👍🏻 https://t.co/tyW8XAISKW
— Jair Bolsonaro 1️⃣7️⃣ (@jairbolsonaro) October 7, 2018
Translation: Bolsonaro: Thanks a lot, Ronaldinho! It’s an honour!
In September, Bolsonaro was stabbed by a mentally disturbed attacker while campaigning and spent three weeks in hospital unable to campaign or attend televised debates.
On Thursday, the 63-year old snubbed the final debate broadcast on Brazil’s TV Globoand appeared instead in a recorded interview on rival channel Rede Record, which is owned by billionaire Evangelical bishop Edir Macedo who has endorsed Bolsonaro.
On Sunday, Brazil’s 147 million registered voters will also elect 27 governors, 54 senators, 513 legislators and more than 1,000 state legislators.
Congress wields considerable power and, since 2016, has decided the fate of two presidents by impeaching Dilma Rousseff for a budget misdemeanour and shielding incumbent Michel Temer from corruption charges.