Brazil's far-right seem favorite to win

What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad’s steep ascending trend gave pundits reason to believe that he would finish the first round ahead of frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro. On Sunday, a poll by MDA/CNT showed Mr. Haddad statistically tied with Mr. Bolsonaro. “I forecast that [Haddad] will finish the first round with 35 percent of valid votes,” said political scientist Alberto Carlos Almeida on Twitter.

Now, Mr. Haddad faces the possibility of the election not even reaching the runoff stage, as Mr. Bolsonaro makes a push for a first-round win. He currently stands at 39 percent of valid votes (discounting spoiled ballots), against the Workers’ Party’s 25 percent. While climbing 11 points in two days seems a lot, there is clearly a wave of support in favor of the far-right candidate.

His polling numbers have skyrocketed over the past month, going from 24 percent of total votes on September 10 to 35 percent on October 4. When we count only valid votes, Mr. Bolsonaro is at 39 percent. And the latter is the metric that counts the most, as candidates require over 50 percent of valid votes to win in the first round.


brazil far-right bolsonaro president 2018 election


brazil far-right bolsonaro president 2018 election


It may seem impossible for him to grow by 11 points in two days – however, it is anything but impossible. The gap to a Bolsonaro first-round win is not 11 points, but rather 5.5 points. As the rate of voters who intend to spoil their ballots has reached a new low (only 6 percent), vote swing will now happen from candidate to candidate. Every vote Mr. Bolsonaro gets from a competitor counts double for percentage calculations.

Too little, too late?

The Workers’ Party – and perhaps every single observer of the election, including yours truly – believed that its best shot at winning back the presidency would be against Jair Bolsonaro. Rejected by almost half of the electorate, it would be “easier” to convince voters that anyone else would be the lesser evil. And how we were wrong.

Of course, Mr. Haddad was not helped by his allies. Moronic statements by members of the Workers’ Party saying he would pardon Lula immediately after taking office has surely hindered him, as the election gets further polarized.

Inexplicably, though, the party has adopted a passive posture against the former Army captain. At the same time, Mr. Haddad brought almost nothing new to the table, focusing on the same discourse that the economic crisis was exclusively a result of a combination of an international crisis and conservative sabotage. His campaign took too long to turn on Mr. Bolsonaro.

We can’t say that it was because the Workers’ Party wanted a “clean campaign,” based only on proposals. Few political players master the art of low blows like the Workers’ Party. In 2014, as soon as Marina Silva began looking like a threat, she was vilified by all sorts of dishonest ads – which said her economic proposals aimed at “taking food from the tables of low-income families.”

After Mr. Bolsonaro’s latest push, the alarm bell has finally rung on the Haddad camp. Their strategy now consists of deconstructing Mr. Bolsonaro’s image based on three issues: his fondness for torture and known torturers, his previous statements that workers’ would have to choose between rights and jobs, and his VP nominee’s criticism of the 13th salary for workers.

On Twitter, the candidate said he has “decided to defend [himself].”

With Election Day two days away, will that be too little, too late?

Last presidential debate

According to Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign, the frontrunner had not been cleared by doctors to participate in yesterday’s debate, as he was unable to talk for over 10 minutes. However, during the airing of the debate, Mr. Bolsonaro gave a 25-minute interview to rival station Record TV – owned by an open supporter of the far-right candidate.

Helped by docile, open-ended questions, the far-right candidate showed himself as the candidate who would guide Brazil past its “leftist indoctrination.” He also accused the Workers’ Party of promoting a smear campaign against him but said he had no control over whether his supporters shared fake news themselves. At no point did the interviewer throw him a curve ball.

The interview is part of Mr. Bolsonaro’s push for a first-round win. It is not the most likely scenario, but it could happen – as there is clearly a wave in his favor.

The new conservative, far-right leader

This week, he got the formal support of traditional conservative organized groups, such as the Rural Caucus in Congress, followed by the Evangelical Caucus, and the so-called Bullet Caucus (conservative congressmen driven by issues of public security and lobbying for fewer gun control restrictions).

That support neutralizes a common argument against Mr. Bolsonaro, that he wouldn’t have the necessary congressional support to approve his agenda. With the hardcore conservatives behind him, Mr. Bolsonaro could have close to the half of the lower house in his corner. And there are talks of creating a new party, unifying landowners, gun lobbyists, and evangelicals – which would give him even more control over Congress.

Make no mistake, if Mr. Bolsonaro gets elected, he will have immense power – which is even scarier than the prospect of a rogue head of state at odds with the establishment. And, according to sources familiar with those negotiations, high-ranked military officials are already drawing up the cabinet of a future Bolsonaro administration.

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.