Ultra-right wing authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidential election Sunday — but just missed out on securing enough votes to avoid a runoff against Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad later this month.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, Rio de Janeiro Congressman Bolsonaro, known for his homophobic, racist and sexist worldview, secured 46 percent of the votes, putting him well ahead of Haddad, who came second with 29.3 percent.
The pair will contest a second-round vote on Oct. 28, with Bolsonaro the overwhelming favorite given the huge support he received across Brazil in the first round.
In his victory speech, Bolsonaro, who was stabbed at a campaign rally last month, urged voters to choose him as their president, warning the country would end up like Venezuela if they did not.
A huge victory for Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) in legislative elections that ran alongside the presidential vote points to a seismic shift in Brazilian politics. Once an insignificance, the PSL is now set to become the largest force in Congress.
Casting his vote Sunday Bolsonaro predicted an outright victory in the first round, saying: "On the 28th October, we can all go to the beach.” The candidate blamed rigged voting machines for missing that target.
Bolsonaro’s campaign was bolstered by a highly-effective social media campaign that hooked into the country’s large online audience. In a video on the eve of the vote, Bolsonaro urged his seven million Facebook followers to get out and vote — echoing much of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
“Let’s make Brazil great! Let’s be proud of our homeland once again,” Bolsonaro said.
Voters in Brazil, one of the world’s largest democracies, have grown tired of spiraling crime rates, a prolonged recession and widespread corruption, prompting a shift away from the Workers’ Party.
Workers’ Party leader and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was banned from taking part in the election last month, as he is serving a 12-year jail term for corruption. Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers’ Party, who was Brazil’s first female president, was removed from office after being found to have misused public funds.
Bolsonaro is an advocate for authoritarian rule, and some Brazilians worry the former military leader’s election will see the country backslide into a military dictatorship. Brazil suffered under military rule between 1964 to 1985, during which hundreds of political opponents were disappeared.
Bolsonaro supports a Duterte-style crackdown on crime, the relaxing of gun controls and the return of the death penalty.
Experts don’t see Haddad closing the gap on Bolsonaro by Oct. 28, and many believe that an already fractured society will become even more polarized in the coming weeks.
“The next few weeks are just going to be crazy … the country is just going to divide even more,” Monica de Bolle, the director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University, told the Guardian.
“It’s going to be a horrible campaign in the second round. It’s going to be one side smearing the other. Bolsonaro is going to be coming out with all the dirt on the PT [Workers’ Party] — and there’s plenty of that. And the PT is going to be coming out with a lot of dirt on Bolsonaro — and there’s plenty of that too.”
Cover image: Brazil's right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) Jair Bolsonaro gives his thumbs up after casting his vote at Villa Militar, during general elections, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 7, 2018. (FERNANDO SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)