Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 5 News List

National Elections: Vote amid anger at ruling class

BRAZIL:Ultraconservative Jair Bolsonaro is widely expected to take the lead ahead of former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, but a runoff election on Oct. 28 is likely


Demonstrators take part in a women’s protest against Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, organized by a social media campaign under the hashtag #EleNao (“Not Him”), in Sao Paulo on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Brazilians were choosing their leaders yesterday in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil, including what may be the largest corruption scandal in Latin American history.

Many had thought that “throw-the-bums-out” rage would buoy the chances of an outsider and end the hegemony of the center-left Workers’ Party and the center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which have for years battled it out for the presidency.

Like much in this election, it has not turned out as predicted. The man who has benefited most from the anger is a 27-year veteran of Congress — Jair Bolsonaro — whose outsider status is based largely on hard-right positions that have alienated as many as they have attracted — nostalgia for a military dictatorship, insults to women and gay people and calls to fight crime by loosening controls on already deadly police forces.

In second place is former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party, which has won the last four presidential elections.

Bolsonaro garnered 36 percent in the latest Datafolha poll, with Haddad 14 points behind. The poll interviewed 19,552 people on Friday and Saturday and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

If no one gets a majority, a runoff is to be held on Oct. 28.

“In general, these are the strangest elections I’ve ever seen,” said Monica de Bolle, director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “It’s shaping up to be a contest between the two weakest candidates possible.”

The campaign has been unpredictable and tense. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led initial polls by a wide margin, but was banned from running after a corruption conviction.

Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally last month and campaigned from a hospital bed in recent weeks.

This election was once seen as the great hope for ending a turbulent era in which many politicians and business executives were jailed on corruption charges, a president was impeached and removed from office in controversial proceedings, and the economy suffered a protracted recession.

Instead, the two front-runners in a field of 13 reflect the rabid divisions that have opened up in Brazilian politics following former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the revelations emerging from the “Car Wash” graft probe.

Bolsonaro, whose base tends to be middle class, has painted a nation in collapse, where drug traffickers and politicians steal with equal impunity, and a moral rot has set in.

He has advocated loosening gun ownership laws so individuals could fight off criminals, giving police a freer hand to use force and restoring “traditional” Brazilian values — though some take issue with his definition of those values in light of his approving allusions to the past military dictatorship and his repeated derisive comments about women, blacks and gay people.

“There is a strong desire for change,” said Andre Portela, an economics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university and think tank. “Bolsonaro has been able to channel that and present himself as the bearer of change, though it’s not clear if he really would be.”

Haddad and the Workers’ Party have portrayed a country hijacked by an elite that will protect its privileges at all costs and cannot bear to see the lives of poor and working class Brazilians improve.

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