Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil’s president-elect vows to uphold constitution amid fears of crackdown on civil liberties

Opposition and human rights groups promise to ‘resist’ any attempt to undermine democracy

Adam Forrest
Monday 29 October 2018 11:00 GMT
Jair Bolsonaro speaks after winning Brazil presidential elections

Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has promised to uphold the constitution following his election victory, in response to fears the far-right leader threatens the nation’s democratic institutions.

International human rights groups and defeated left-wing rival Fernando Haddad have warned of a looming crackdown on civil liberties as the country moves sharply to the right.

Mr Bolsonaro, who won just over 55 per cent of the votes on Sunday, tried to allay fears about his win, saying he would “pacify” Brazil following an election campaign repeatedly marred by violence.

“This country belongs to all of us, Brazilians by birth or by heart, a Brazil of diverse opinions, colours and orientations,” he said. Mr Bolsonaro also said he wanted “to change the destiny of Brazil”.

The ex-army captain – dubbed “Trump of the Tropics” – has spoken fondly of Brazil’s former military dictatorship and said socialists would have to “go to jail” if he won.

He has also made comments in support of torture and has vowed to appoint military generals to his cabinet.

Mr Haddad, who took just under 45 per cent of the votes, promised to fight for human rights and the rule of law.

“We have the responsibility to mount an opposition, putting national interests, the interests of the entire Brazilian people, above everything,” the Workers’ Party candidate told supporters.

“Brazil has possibly never needed the exercise of citizenship more than right now.”

Supporters of left-wing candidate Fernando Haddad react to his defeat (AFP/Getty)

International rights groups have expressed concerns about the far-right congressman’s victory.

Human Rights Watch called on Brazil’s judiciary and other institutions to “resist any attempt to undermine human rights, the rule of law and democracy under Jair Bolsonaro’s government”.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said Mr Bolsonaro’s victory “could pose a huge risk to Indigenous Peoples and quilombolas, traditional rural communities, LGBTI people, black youth, women, activists and civil society organisations, if his rhetoric is transformed in public policy.”

Mr Bolsonaro built his popularity on hardline law and order positions. The 63-year-old congressman had vowed to crack down on crime by granting police more autonomy to shoot at criminals.

His campaign also tapped into widespread anger at the political class after years of corruption, an economy that has struggled to recover from a punishing recession and a surge in violence.

Many Brazilians were furious with the Workers’ Party for its role in the graft scheme revealed by the “Operation Car Wash” investigation, which uncovered billions of dollars in bribes paid to politicians via inflated construction contracts.

But Mr Bolsonaro’s candidacy also raised serious concerns that he would roll back civil rights and weaken institutions in what remains a young democracy.

He has frequently disparaged women, gays and blacks, and vowed to appoint military men in his cabinet. Mr Bolsonaro has a long history of offensive statements about immigrants, black Brazilians and gay people.

In a speech made last year, Mr Bolsonaro spoke about a black settlement founded by the descendants of slaves. “They do nothing. They are not even good for procreation,” he said.

Mr Bolsonaro has also repeatedly said he would pull Brazil from the Paris agreement on climate change, but last week he backed off on that.

In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters gathered on iconic Copacabana Beach to celebrate on Sunday night. There were also reports of clashes between his backers and opponents in Sao Paulo.

Additional reporting by agencies

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