Ahead of Brazil’s elections last Sunday, the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was widely expected to finish first in a crowded field. With more than a dozen people running for the presidency, however, few thought he would come as close as he did to winning an outright majority in the first round.
The final tally gave the controversial former army captain 46 percent of the vote, setting the stage for a runoff on Oct. 28 against Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party, whose preferred candidate, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is in prison and was barred from running. Haddad, a late replacement, finished a distant second with 29 percent of the vote.
The result means that Bolsonaro—who has spoken favorably of Brazil’s past military dictatorship, including its record of torture, and has a retired general as his running mate—is by far the odds-on favorite to become president of Latin America’s largest, most populous and arguably most influential country. That would put the region squarely in the middle of the contest between authoritarianism and liberal democracy now being waged across the globe. It raises the question of whether events in this bellwether country will usher in a new far-right wave just as Latin America’s “pink wave” recedes, potentially undercutting democratic gains in a region that struggled for decades to build democracies.