Brazil rightist heads to runoff for presidency

ReutersRIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) — Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he would stick to his hardline agenda on guns, crime and graft in the second round of the election on Oct. 28, alarming senior statesmen and human rights advocates alike.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain and veteran lawmaker, nearly won the presidency outright on Sunday, taking 46 percent of votes against leftist Fernando Haddad’s 29 percent, part of a swing to the right in Latin America’s largest nation.

As neither candidate won an outright majority, Bolsonaro will face Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo representing the Workers Party (PT), in the second-round vote.

Some Bolsonaro supporters called on him to moderate his message to ensure victory, but the candidate said he would not ease up on an anti-establishment message that has resonated with voters. The world’s fifth-most populous country has been roiled by years of rising crime, recession and graft scandals.

“I can’t turn into a Little ‘Peace and Love’ Jair, which would be betraying who I am,” Bolsonaro said in a radio interview. “I have to keep being the same person.”

His words were a thinly veiled swipe at former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who dropped his fiery leftist rhetoric to win the presidency in 2002, dubbing himself the “Peace and Love” candidate.

Lula, who founded the Workers Party and was president until 2010, is serving 12 years in prison for a bribery conviction.

Reflecting confidence that he will win the second round, Bolsonaro said he had already begun talks with other lawmakers in Congress to build an eventual governing coalition. That raised expectations of swift, market-friendly reforms.

Markets have cheered Bolsonaro’s advance toward the presidency since his recent conversion to free-market ideas under the tutelage of University of Chicago-trained economist Paulo Guedes. Signs that Bolsonaro could win enough support in Congress to push through his agenda added to enthusiasm.

“Part of the market’s excitement comes from the renovation in Congress. Regardless of party, that provides hope,” said Pablo Syper, head of trading at Mirae Asset Global Investments.

Bolsonaro’s popularity surged as exasperated Brazilians decided he represents the best chance to turn back a wave of violent crime and dismantle what prosecutors call the world’s largest political graft scheme.

But his track record of fiery anti-democratic rhetoric, calls for police to kill as many criminals as possible and offensive comments on women and minorities have alarmed former presidents and observers across the political spectrum.

Bolsonaro said in a TV Globo interview on Monday night that he posed “no threat of a coup” and that he was seeking to win office by the ballot only.

Former Ceara Gov. Ciro Gomes, who split with the PT and garnered 12 percent of first-round votes with his center-left presidential campaign, stopped short of endorsing Haddad for the second round, but said he would “fight to defend democracy.”

Asked whom he would endorse, Gomes referred to the slogan of anti-Bolsonaro protesters in recent weeks: “Not him, certainly.”

With the field reduced to two candidates, some analysts see Haddad as the natural inheritor of many of the centrist votes that will be up for grabs, but the scale of Bolsonaro’s first-round success means that Haddad will have little room for maneuver.

Political analysts said that to have a chance of winning the runoff, Haddad would need to move quickly to the center, distance himself from his political mentor, former President Lula, and denounce the corruption that flourished during his party’s 2003-2016 run in government.

However, one of his first moves on Monday was to fly to the southern city of Curitiba for a meeting with Lula in his prison cell, a weekly encounter that Haddad is authorized to make as a member of the former president’s legal team.

At a news conference afterward, Haddad cast the second round as pitting Bolsonaro’s “neoliberalism” against the social programs that the PT has promoted.

Allies recognized the uphill battle he faces.

“It’s a tough situation, but God is with us. He better be, because just us isn’t enough,” joked Gilberto Carvalho, a former PT minister and senior party member.Speech

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