International

Far-right, resolutely left: Brazil's two presidential candidates

Brazilian voters are confronted with two deeply divisive candidates vying to be their next president in an October 28 runoff election.

Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is leading, but his outspoken statements denigrating women, gays, blacks and the poor have galvanized protesters who use the hashtag #EleNao (Not Him)
Brazilian right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is leading, but his outspoken statements denigrating women, gays, blacks and the poor have galvanized protesters who use the hashtag #EleNao (Not Him) (AFP)

Brazilian voters are confronted with two deeply divisive candidates vying to be their next president in an October 28 runoff election.

On one hand, there's Jair Bolsonaro, an ultraconservative former military man promising a Donald Trump-like shakeup of Latin America's biggest economy.

On the other, there's Fernando Haddad, representing the leftwing Workers Party that was in power under the 2003-2010 boom period of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- now in prison -- and a subsequent recession that was the country's worst on record.

Here is a look at the two runoff candidates:

Jair Bolsonaro

Like Trump, the 63-year-old Bolsonaro is fond of tough-guy talk, eschews political correctness and uses social media to bypass journalistic scrutiny.

He has hailed military men in government, championed looser gun laws, and projects an image of an outsider combatting a corrupt and incompetent elite.

But the comparison with the US leader is not entirely accurate: Bolsonaro himself once served in the military as an army captain, is in fact a longstanding member of Brazil's congress, which he joined in 1991, and does not have the backing of a major party.

Still, his shoot-from-the-lip style, pledge to completely revamp Brazil's big economy and polarizing effect on the electorate are what has grabbed much attention.

Statements pillorying gays, denigrating women (he once said of a female leftist deputy: "she doesn't deserve to be raped because she's very ugly)," dismissing Brazil's large poor black population and justifying the use of torture have sparked visceral opposition to his candidacy.

On September 6, he survived a knife attack while on the campaign trail, which police say was carried out by a man who acted alone and out of political motivation.

Yet investors have hopes that Bolsonaro, a Roman Catholic father of five -- born from three relationships -- who has close links to influential Evangelical Christian churches, can hoist Brazil out of its economic malaise.

Fernando Haddad

Haddad, was tapped by the Workers Party to replace its preferred candidate Lula, who is serving a 12-year prison term for graft and disqualified from making a comeback.

Channeling Lula's popularity, the 55-year-old Haddad climbed up the survey rankings.

But the former mayor of Sao Paulo -- Brazil's biggest city -- and has struggled to set himself apart from the iconic Lula.

Worse, he has to carry the baggage of his party's years in power that are blamed for Brazil's economic mess, and much of the corruption.

It hasn't helped that Haddad, the son of a Lebanese immigrant, faced corruption accusations linked to his campaign during municipal elections in 2012.