Is Brazil candidate Jair Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics?


By BBC Monitoring Miami team

Few Brazilians feel indifferent towards Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who has made it into the run-off of the presidential election.

Ever since he announced he was running for president, there have been rallies for and against the controversial former army captain. These divisions look set to deepen now that he will face his Workers’ Party rival, Fernando Haddad, in the second round on 28 October.

Jair Bolsonaro likes to court controversy. The 63-year-old has made provocative statements on issues ranging from abortion, race, migration and homosexuality to gun laws.

He has portrayed himself as the defender of a Brazil of decades past, suggesting that the country should return to the hardline law-and-order tactics of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

‘Wannabe Hitler’

Some media have started calling him the “Trump of the Tropics” comparing his populist style and social media presence to that of the US leader.

His presidential rival Ciro Gomes even went as far as dubbing Mr Bolsonaro a “little tropical wannabe Hitler”.

Mr Bolsonaro had already been doing well in opinion polls when he was stabbed by a lone attacker on 6 September but the intense media attention which followed was new even for him.

Even though he was confined to a hospital bed following the attack, preventing him from returning to the campaign trail, he kept rising in the polls.

Key facts:

  • Jair Messias Bolsonaro was born in Campinas, São Paulo, on 21 March 1955. He has been married three times
  • He graduated from the Agulhas Negras Military Academy in 1977
  • An assessment conducted during his years in the military said he showed “signs of excessive ambition to be financially and economically successful”, a local newspaper reported
  • In 1986, while still an army captain, he was arrested after signing an article published in a news magazine, complaining about low salaries received by the military
  • He was first elected to Congress in 1990

During his seven terms in Congress, Mr Bolsonaro’s priorities and interests have evolved. At first, he focused mainly on the interests of the military, his main electoral base at the time.

In more recent years, he has widened his proposals to cover the broader issues of public safety and law and order, which made him popular with many voters in crime-racked Brazil.

By 2014, he was the Congressional candidate to win the highest number of votes in Rio de Janeiro.

His time in Congress has also been marked by provocative, headline-grabbing statements.

In his own words:

“Safety is our priority! It is urgent! People need jobs, they want education, but it’s no use if they continue to be robbed on the way to their jobs; it’s no use if drug trafficking remains at the doors of schools,” he wrote on Twitter on 11 September.

“Political correctness is a thing of leftist radicals. I am one of the most attacked persons,” he said in an interview with daily Correio Braziliense in June.

“I’d prefer [to see] a son of mine to die in an accident than [to be] a homosexual,” he told Playboy in a 2011 interview.

In 2016, when members of Congress voted to impeach the then-president, Dilma Rousseff, Mr Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to late Colonel Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a highly controversial figure who was accused of torturing prisoners under Brazil’s military rule.

That same year he again provoked outrage by remarking that a fellow lawmaker, was not worth raping because he thought she was “very ugly” and not his “type”.

Since he launched his campaign for the presidency, he has attracted new supporters. Many in the business sector like his strong backing of free-market economics and markets have gone up in tandem with his opinion polls.

Some young people have been attracted to his plain speaking and his social media presence. Some evangelicals, who account for one in every four voters, like his conservative outlook on issues such as gay marriage.

A strong feeling of rejection towards the Workers’ Party and the corruption scandals which have tainted it has also weakened his main rival, Fernando Haddad.

But with only two candidates left in the race, the spotlight shining on Mr Bolsonaro will be even brighter.

His critics hope that more scrutiny will show that there is not much of substance in his election manifesto but his supporters for now seem happy with the headlines he has been making, controversial or not.



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