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Brazil is choosing a new president. Here’s what you need to know

Jair Bolsonaro’s tough line on crime and market-friendly policies have gained him as much support as his controversial views on women, homosexuality, race and torture have provoked scorn © AFP/File / EVARISTO SA

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct 28 – Brazil is holding a presidential run-off election Sunday. A far-right politician promising a hard line on crime and corruption, Jair Bolsonaro, is the frontrunner.

Here’s what you need to know:

– How important is the election? –

Brazil is one of the most important emerging economies, a member of the “BRICS” club and Latin America’s biggest country.

Popularity of Brazil’s main presidential candidates © AFP

Whoever ends up as president will be at the helm of the world’s eighth-biggest economy, an oil producer and major energy consumer whose chief trading partner is China.

Yet it’s only three decades since Brazil shucked off a military dictatorship. And it has just emerged from its worst-ever recession, which wiped out much of a preceding decade of prosperity.

– Who is Bolsonaro? –

Called a “Tropical Trump” by some, Bolsonaro is controversial and polarizing.

The former army captain has been a congressman since 1991, and is known for offensive remarks against women, gays, blacks and the poor.

But he also has a healthy lead in the polls — attributed to his tough-guy promises to crack down on crime and graft, and his canny use of Facebook to reach out to voters.

He was stabbed in the stomach by an attacker at a campaign rally on September 6, which put him in the hospital for three weeks. Since then, he has campaigned entirely on social media.

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Brazilian women have spearheaded massive protests against right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, like this one in Sao Paulo © AFP/File / Miguel SCHINCARIOL

To his supporters, the episode only bolstered his image as a “Myth” — their nickname for him — and underlined the need for the ruthless crackdown on crime he is promising.

Although a Catholic, he has the backing of an influential evangelical bloc in Congress that would help him govern if he wins.

But he has inspired massive protests by Brazilian women, under the slogan “Not him.”

– Is he a shoo-in? –

He came close to winning the election outright in the first-round vote on October 7.

In a field of 13 candidates, he won 46 percent of the vote, to 29 percent for runner-up Fernando Haddad, his opponent in Sunday’s run-off.

Fernando Haddad (C) is the candidate of the leftist Workers’ Party, running as a last minute replacement for Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the popular former president serving a 12-year sentence for bribery © AFP/File / DOUGLAS MAGNO

Bolsonaro had an eight- to 10-point lead going into the second round, according to two final polls released Saturday.

Pollster Ibope gave him a lead of 54 percent to 46 percent for Haddad, while Datafolha gave him 55 percent to 45.

Haddad is the Workers’ Party’s choice to replace popular but imprisoned ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is serving a 12-year sentence for bribery.

The leftist has made up ground — he trailed by as much as 18 points two weeks ago — but it would take a dramatic surge for him to win.

– What’s the future hold? –

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If he does enter Planalto, Brazil’s equivalent of the White House, Bolsonaro has promised big changes — though he would have to work with a divided Congress where the Workers’ Party still holds sway.

He wants looser gun laws for “good” civilians to help counter rife street assaults and murders, and for the army to go after organized crime.

Political corruption will be quashed and the government streamlined, he has said. Brazil would sell off state enterprises to bring down spiraling public debt.

Supporters of Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro have also rallied, especially after he was stabbed on the campaign trail in September © AFP/File / Miguel SCHINCARIOL

In foreign relations, Brasilia would “cease coddling murderous dictatorships,” his platform says.

That looks like a reference particularly to neighboring Venezuela, whose implosion under the rule of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing over the border into Brazil.

Instead, it would turn more toward countries such as the United States, Israel and Italy.

“We’ve got to give Socialism, Communism, a kick up the ass,” he said in one interview.


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