With The Stabbing Of Brazil’s Trump-like Candidate, The Election Takes A Nasty Turn

Corruption scandals, hyper-partisanship, and now a stabbing. Brazil’s election has underscored the political turmoil in the country, to the benefit of the far-right.

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is taken on the shoulders of a supporter moments before being stabbed during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Bolsonaro's son said the injury is not life-threatening. (Antonio Scorza/Agencia O Globo via AP)

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is taken on the shoulders of a supporter moments before being stabbed during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. Bolsonaro’s son said the injury is not life-threatening. (Antonio Scorza/Agencia O Globo via AP)

Last Thursday, far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed during a campaign rally in the state of Minas Gerais, south-eastern Brazil. He sustained serious injuries in the intestines and liver, and remains in serious but stable condition. The suspected assailant, Adelio Obispo de Oliveira, was quickly apprehended by the crowd gathered at the rally, beaten, then taken into custody. All candidates and parties condemned the attack.

This is the latest turn in an election filled with drama. Voters, who will go to the polls on October 7th and (if a second round is needed) 28th, have been disenchanted by a political class brought down by one of the world’s biggest corruption scandals. Dubbed Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), the more than four-year criminal investigation has implicated the last three Brazilian presidents, as well as many politicians and businesspeople in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president and erstwhile frontrunner in the election, is currently in jail on charges stemming from Lava Jato. After losing his appeals to be allowed to run despite his imprisonment, Lula officially stepped down yesterday as candidate. He also named a successor: Fernando Haddad, Lula’s former education minister and a former mayor of Sao Paulo who has also been charged with corruption.

All of the turmoil has played into the hands of Mr. Bolsonaro. He has mixed homophobia, racism, a fondness for right-wing authoritarianism, and rebukes of the political establishment, in a far-right populist platform aimed at showcasing himself as a rightful alternative to politics as usual in Brazil. It has worked so far, as Mr. Bolsonaro has polled as the most popular candidate behind Lula. His free-market instincts have even swayed some businesses to support him.

Most polls have Mr. Bolsonaro losing in the second round to almost every other candidate. However, it is unclear how much Mr. Bolsonaro’s stabbing will impact the election going forward. In the short run, at least, he will probably stand to gain support from the increased airtime and sympathy from the public. Polls show this is already the case. The Brazilian stock market actually rose following the attack; a sign investors believe Bolsonaro’s chances of winning have improved (and support that possibility). On the other hand, the injury may inhibit him from campaigning.

Though this will not guarantee him a win by any stretch, it will be hard to see another candidate make significant gains the rest of the way, either. Crucially, Mr. Bolsonaro polled evenly in a potential second round against Mr. Haddad. It is unclear if Lula’s supporters will be as eager to support Mr. Haddad (the former president lifted millions out of poverty while in office.) As for other candidates- former Environment Minister Marina Silva, left-wing candidate Ciro Gomes, centrist former governor of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin – they have not drawn much enthusiasm from the Brazilian public. Mr. Alckmin, in particular, is seen as the quintessential establishment candidate.

More surprises can be expected in the next few weeks before polls open. While Mr. Bolsonaro is not a lock to pass on to the first round, and will find it very difficult to win enough votes in the second, the possibility of a Brazilian Trump is no longer remote.

Global Outlook // Brazil / World