RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) — Brazil’s frontrunner for the presidency, Jair Bolsonaro, on Thursday declared “I am an admirer of Trump” and rejected being labeled an extreme-right candidate because of his rhetoric blasting crime, current migration policies and his past views favoring torture.
Speaking during his first news conference since securing 46 percent of the vote in a first-round election last Sunday — trailed by leftist Fernando Haddad, who took 29% — Bolsonaro said: “I’m not far-right. Point out to me an act of mine that is far-right.”
He added, echoing a theme of US President Donald Trump, “When I spoke of the migration question, it’s because we can’t have a country with open borders.”
Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old populist and seven-term congressman who was once a paratrooper, declared: “I’m an admirer of President Trump. He wants a great United States — I want a great Brazil.”
And like Trump, he has vowed during the campaign to move the country’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and has said he will close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia.
His latest comments came as he and Haddad campaigned ahead of an October 28 run-off that polls suggest Bolsonaro should easily win.
But the race is one of the most polarized in memory in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s detractors highlight his contentious past comments demeaning women and gay people, and talking nostalgically of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Haddad, 55, on the other hand, is despised by a large chunk of Brazil’s 147 million voters for belonging to the Workers’ Party, which is seen as corrupt and was in power for 13 years till 2016, during which the country experienced a boom followed by a devastating bust.
A spate of violent incidents reported in the Brazilian media since last weekend’s vote has crystallized fears that the febrile atmosphere is tipping the country into dangerous territory.
Many of the incidents involved Bolsonaro backers targeting Haddad supporters for assault and threats.
On Monday, a 63-year-old man was stabbed to death in a bar in northeastern Salvador for reportedly saying Brazilians preferred the Workers’ Party.
A transgender woman, Julyanna Barbosa, told AFP she was attacked with an iron bar by street vendors in a western Rio district yelling “Bolsonaro must win to clear this trash off the street.”
A Brazilian journalists’ association, ABRAJI, said it had recorded 62 physical assaults on media workers linked to the election.
“Bolsonaro isn’t going to kill a transgender person. He’s not going to beat up a black with his own hands. But his discourse is going to legitimize other people to do so,” read an online comment posted by a Brazilian, Duda Rodrigues.
Both candidates sent out tweets disavowing the violence and calling for it to stop.
“This appeal is welcome, because the situation is really delicate,” said a sociologist studying violence in the country, Ignacio Cano, of Rio de Janeiro State University.
A Datafolha voter intention survey published Wednesday gave Bolsonaro 58% support to 42% for the leftist candidate going into the run-off.
Bolsonaro’s main pillars of support are better-educated, better-off male Brazilians and millions who follow Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical churches.
Haddad’s support is concentrated in the poorer, blacker northeast of the country, where many are still grateful to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known simply as Lula, for his success in reducing poverty.
On Thursday, Haddad said he was confident of closing the gap with Bolsonaro.
“We need only eight points to get to 50 (percent of polled support). We have two weeks of work to get those eight points,” he told journalists in Brasilia.