Sao Paulo – The frontrunner in Brazil’s presidential election – far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro – gave a fiery and confrontational speech to supporters on Sunday in which he said he would purge the country of left-wing “criminals”.
“We are the majority. We are the real Brazil. Together, we will build a new nation,” he said. “These red criminals will be banished from our homeland.”
The speech pleased supporters but sent a chilling message to political rivals and raised further concerns about how Bolsonaro would rule in Brazil.
“Bolsonaro is doubling down on his campaign strategy,” said Matias Spektor, a professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo. “This is an election about change and anger.”
Brazil was ruled by a brutal and repressive military dictatorship from 1964 through 1985 during which hundreds of political opponents were murdered and thousands tortured.
Bolsonaro – an outspoken advocate of the military dictatorship, who has previously spoken in favour of torture and extrajudicial police killings and has a history of making disparaging remarks about women, the LGBT community and other minority groups – currently leads opinion polls and is expected to win a comfortable victory during the October 28 presidential runoff against the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad.
“In the case of Bolsonaro (different from other candidates), we don’t know what kind of relationship he will establish with the democratic institutions,” said Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Sao Paulo’s Insper business school.
“In the very minimum, it creates a sense of insecurity.”
Brazil is bitterly divided and racked by increasing episodes of political violence. Bolsonaro himself was the victim of a near-fatal stabbing in September during a campaign rally.
Bolsonaro made Sunday’s 10-minute speech via mobile phone from his home in Rio de Janeiro. A video was transmitted live to thousands of supporters at a demonstration on Sao Paulo’s main thoroughfare Avenida Paulista. Supporters’ demonstrations were also held in Rio de Janeiro and other cities. Rallies against the far-right candidate were held a day earlier.
Of Brazil’s popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who led opinion polls until he was barred from running due to his imprisonment for a corruption conviction, Bolsonaro said: “You will rot in jail!” to which supporters were heard chanting “Legend! Legend! Legend!”
“Haddad will be there with you soon, but not to visit,” Bolsonaro said of his centre-left opponent Haddad, who took over Lula’s candidacy.
“You can get out of here! You won’t have any more chance in our homeland,” Bolsonaro said, “It will be a cleansing never seen in the history of Brazil.”
After the speech, Haddad tweeted: “We must defend the democratic state of law. How will people feel safe if they threaten anyone who thinks otherwise?”
PT congressman Paulo Pimenta called the speech “the hardest attack on Brazilian democracy” since the dictatorship ended in 1985.
Bolsonaro also labelled the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper “the biggest fake news in Brazil”, saying he would cut government advertising revenue to the newspaper.
Last week, the newspaper published an article alleging companies and Brazilian businessmen were financing a fake news network on the messaging application Whatsapp to favour the far-right candidate. Police have opened a probe into the allegations.
Separately on Sunday, a video of Bolsonaro’s politician son, Eduardo – who was recently re-elected to Congress – from July went viral in which he spoke about closing Brazil’s Supreme Court with “a corporal and a soldier”, if the court blocked his father’s victory.
Court ministers including court president Dias Toffoli hit back on Monday, calling an attack on the judiciary an “attack on democracy”.
Bolsonaro blasted the comment as that of someone who “should go to a psychiatrist” and said he warned his son, local media reported.