Brazil enters new era with far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro

Markets reacted positively to the victory by the business-world favorite, who will take office on January 1.

Published: 29th October 2018 11:34 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2018 11:34 PM   |  A+A-

A supporter waves a flag with an image of Jair Bolsonaro as he drives past in front of his residence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | AP


RIO DE JANERIO: Brazil entered a new era Monday after electing its next president, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman who vowed a fundamental change in direction for the giant Latin American country.

Bolsonaro, who openly admires Brazil's former military dictatorship and shocked many with his derogatory remarks on women, gays and blacks, won 55 percent of the vote in a run-off election Sunday -- more than 10 points ahead of leftist opponent Fernando Haddad.

Having channeled voters' anger with corruption, crime and economic malaise, the man dubbed the "Tropical Trump" will now get down to work seeking to "change Brazil's destiny" -- the promise he made in his victory speech.

Markets reacted positively to the victory by the business-world favorite, who will take office on January 1.

The Sao Paulo stock exchange's main index was up 1.5 percent mid-morning, after adding 10 percent in a month as Bolsonaro surged in the polls. The Brazilian real traded its strongest in six months against the dollar, before retreating slightly.

After a deeply polarizing election, many Brazilians seem eager to turn the page, hoping for the best.

"Maybe now, with this renewal, things will improve in this country," Bolsonaro voter Jocemil Clacino, a 66-year-old shopkeeper in Rio de Janeiro, told AFP.

"Fifty-five percent of the voters believe in this -- that it's a historic moment, that everything's going to change. Let's hope so," said Joelson Alves Soares, 72, a retiree who did not vote.

For Bolsonaro's opponents, however, the bitterness runs deep.

"These elections revealed the worst in humanity. People let out everything they had been too afraid to talk about. It made me feel terrible. But we'll have to carry on," said Adriana Calvi, 55.

Cautious congrats 

Bolsonaro, 63, received congratulations from world leaders -- though some urged him to "respect democratic principles," as French President Emmanuel Macron put it.

Opponents have warned Bolsonaro could try to veer toward authoritarianism, after the former army captain openly expressed his admiration for Brazil's brutal military dictatorship (1964-1985) and its torture of leftist dissidents.

The European Union will be expecting Bolsonaro to "work to consolidate democracy," EU spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said pointedly.

US President Donald Trump and Italy's far-right Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini were more effusive.

Trump tweeted that he had had an "excellent" phone call with Bolsonaro, and Salvini celebrated the fact that "in Brazil too, the people have chased out the left," wishing him luck.

Latin American leaders also sent their congrats.

In a sign of how far the "pink tide" of left-wing governments that recently dominated the region has ebbed, even Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Ecuador's Evo Morales -- two leftist holdouts -- sent their warm regards.

- Conciliatory tone -
The polls came on the heels of Brazil's worst-ever recession, a staggering multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal and a year of record-setting violent crime.

Although many voters expressed strong dislike for Bolsonaro, even more rejected Haddad and his Workers' Party, which had won the past four presidential elections.

Bolsonaro will now face a tall order uniting a divided country, after a vitriolic and sometimes violent campaign -- including an attack that sent him to the hospital for three weeks, when an assailant stabbed him in the belly at a rally on September 6.

Haddad, a former Sao Paulo mayor, had initially refused to congratulate Bolsonaro.

But the runner-up took a more conciliatory tone on Monday.

"President Jair Bolsonaro, I wish you success. Our country deserves the best," he tweeted.

- Economic shift -
Bolsonaro's top economic adviser, liberal economist Paulo Guedes, promised that the changes would be sweeping for the world's eighth-largest economy.

"We are going to change the social-democratic economic model. It's terrible," said Guedes, a respected University of Chicago graduate who will head an economy super-ministry under Bolsonaro.

"We need pension reform ... and we are going to accelerate privatizations."

Bolsonaro is due to fly to Brasilia soon to start the transition process, though aides did not confirm when.

His schedule will include meetings with deeply unpopular outgoing President Michel Temer, as well as the chief justice of the Supreme Court and army chief of staff.


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