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Far-right populism rises in Brazil’s presidential election

Much like President Trump and other populist leaders around the world, a far-right candidate on Sunday was leading Brazil’s presidential election. Jair Bolsonaro, a former fringe candidate, surged ahead in recent polling after he was stabbed nearly to death by an adversary on the trail. For more, The New York Times Brazil bureau chief Ernesto Londoño joins Hari Sreenivasan from Rio de Janeiro.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It is Election Day in Brazil and a far-right populist candidate is leading in a field of 13 candidates for president. Jair Bolsonaro voted this morning and predicted he would win without a runoff. The formerly fringe candidate spent part of the last few weeks of the campaign in the hospital after a near fatal stabbing and has surged ahead in recent polling.

    Joining us now from Rio de Janeiro via Skype is New York Times Brazil bureau chief Ernesto Londoño. Londoño, so, first tell me how did he get to where he is today considering that he was not a major party candidate?

  • ERNESTO LONDOÑO:

    Many Brazilians are scratching their heads, asking themselves that same question. A year ago, many people here in the ruling elite and the political establishment would have told you this man does not stand a chance. This is a congressman who has little to show for his seven terms in office and somebody who was the odd politician who spoke approvingly of Brazil's military dictatorship and also stacked up a bunch of very controversial remarks about women, about black people, about gays. Many people assumed he was just too toxic to be a viable candidate.

    However, something remarkable has happened in recent weeks. Brazilians are so fed up with politics as usual, they are so terrified of the level of crime and they were so eager to see the anti-corruption crusade that the authorities have launched in recent years continue without any obstruction that they are pinning their hopes on this man who says he has answers to these problems.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, as you describe this guy, this candidate, who might be president of Brazil, it's almost like a checklist of what happened in the United States before Donald Trump?

  • ERNESTO LONDOÑO:

    Absolutely, there are many similarities. One of them is that he launched a remarkably unorthodox campaign. While some of his rivals were spending lots of money on a conventional ad campaigns, on marketing firms, Jair Bolsonaro relying almost exclusively on his appeal on social media to build a base. This is a candidate who was not being backed by one of the big traditional parties with national reach, which in the past has been crucial to win a presidential election.

    But he tapped into social media, his followers created this vast network of chat rooms on the WhatsApp messaging platform. He's on Facebook all the time, just speaking his mind, very unscripted on these grainy, shaky videos. And people were very hungry for authenticity saw in him somebody was being very authentic and the currency that seems to be very high in Brazil.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's the core or what are the core issues that are driving people to the polls. Is it about the economy or is it about crime?

  • ERNESTO LONDOÑO:

    I would say first and foremost Brazil is grappling with an unprecedented level of crime, violent crime, across the country particularly in the north east and in some of the large cities, like Rio de Janeiro. You know, some people start their days looking at apps — the way you and may check the weather in the United States — to see where there are shootings happening so they can plan their daily commute. This just how sort of deeply the fear of crime has seeped into people's routine.

    And also I think, there's for a number of years there's been a sense that politicians in this country have become something of you know, what kleptocrat, have become essentially kleptocrats, have been stealing with abandon and largely with impunity for many many years and that they're only looking after their own interests and their own pocketbook. So along comes this this congressman, who has spent three decades in office and who has been untainted by corruption allegations and he says I will make sure that we upend this game that we change the way politics is played in this country and we root out rat.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Brazil's bureau chief for The New York Times, Ernesto Londono joining us via Skype from Rio. Thanks so much.

  • ERNESTO LONDOÑO:

    My pleasure.

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