In Depth

Jair Bolsonaro: how ‘Brazil’s Trump’ is shaking up the presidential race

Controversial far-right politician will take on jailed former president Lula

A far-right populist known as “Brazil’s Trump” has formally thrown his hat into the ring for this autumn’s presidential election, igniting a campaign already beset by infighting and hostility on both sides.

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro has attracted a huge social media following with his outspoken comments that have led to comparisons with the US president. He once said in Playboy magazine that he would be “incapable of loving a gay son” and told another newspaper one congresswomen was “not worth raping” because “she is very ugly”.

Opponents have been outraged by his overtly racist and homophobic rhetoric. But his supporters see he him as the only person to clean up the corrupt and crime-ridden country.

Only a few months ago, most experts regarded Bolsonaro as unelectable due to his radical positions, his record as an apologist for military dictatorship and torture, his offensive comments and his lack of major party affiliation.

“Although these may still prove insurmountable obstacles to his election, many now see him as a dark-horse candidate—a populist outsider whose anti-establishment rhetoric may yet propel him to victory,” says Foreign Policy.

Bolsonaro is in favour of loosening Brazil’s gun control laws and is staunchly anti-abortion, winning him the support of millions of evangelical Christians who could be crucial in a closely fought campaign.

His rallies are characterised by raucous crowds who mimick guns with their fingers, says ABC News – “a hand sign that the former military officer has made popular”.

Like the US president, his stump speech often contains promises to shake up the status quo, fill his cabinet with military officers and take Brazil out of the Paris climate accord.

Despite standing for the little-known Social Liberal Party, Bolsonaro is polling second behind former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is currently serving a jail sentence for corruption and is unlikely to be allowed to stand in October.

This could open the way for Bolsonaro, but while some surveys suggest many Brazilians see him as the man to take control of crime and corruption, “he also has a high rejection rate, which could make it tricky for him to win if the vote were to go into a run-off”, reports the BBC.

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