The frontrunner in Brazil’s presidential election was stabbed at a campaign rally Thursday, leaving the far-right candidate hospitalized and in a serious condition.
Congressman Jair Bolsonaro was being carried on the shoulders of supporters in Juiz de Fora city, in the southern state of Minas Gerais, when he was stabbed in the stomach by an attacker in the crowd.
Footage of the incident showed the 63-year-old doubling over in pain before being rushed to hospital.
Bolsonaro had surgery, and was in a serious but stable condition Friday, although doctors said he could take two months to fully recover. His son, Flávio, tweeted that the politician was “almost dead” when he arrived at hospital, after losing a lot of blood.
“Unfortunately it was more serious than we hoped,” he tweeted. “The wound reached part of his liver, lung and intestine.”
Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reported that Bolsonaro was wearing a bulletproof vest, but was stabbed just below it.
Police arrested a 40-year-old suspect, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, in connection with the attack. The suspect’s Facebook page featured posts critical of Bolsonaro, according to reports. Police told Reuters that he appeared mentally disturbed, and one Brazilian news site carried an extract from the suspect’s police interview where he said he had stabbed the politician on orders from God.
The attack on Bolsonaro, a polarizing figure who is often referred to Brazil’s answer to Donald Trump, was universally condemned by the country’s politicians, with President Michel Temer saying it was “intolerable” in a democracy.
The incident will likely increase tensions in one of the most turbulent elections since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago. Another leading candidate, left-wing former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, is in prison, and currently banned from running as a result of his conviction for corruption. He is appealing the ban.
Bolsonaro, who polls suggest will win the most votes in the first round of the October elections, has sparked outrage for comments such as equating homosexuality with pedophilia and calling a congresswoman too ugly to be raped. He faces trial before the Brazil’s Supreme Court for alleged hate speech.
A hardliner on crime, the former army captain has openly praised the murderous military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for decades until 1985, saying it should have killed more people, and — like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte — has said he’d encourage police to take a deadlier approach to gang members and criminals.
While his recuperation is likely to keep him off the campaign trail for the critical remaining weeks, his team said they believed the attack — which highlights one of his core campaign issues of violent crime — would only energize his base.
In defiant comments to reporters outside the hospital Friday, Flávio Bolsonaro said the attack had guaranteed his father victory.
“I just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians,” he said. “You just elected him president. He will win in the first round.”
Cover image: Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro gestures after being stabbed in the stomach during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais State, in southern Brazil, on September 6, 2018. ( RAYSA LEITE/AFP/Getty Images)