Front runner in Brazil presidential polls hurt in knife attack

Mr Jair Bolsonaro (above) reacting after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, on Thursday. In a screen grab (left), the knife can be seen.
Mr Jair Bolsonaro (above) reacting after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, on Thursday. In a screen grab, the knife can be seen.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mr Jair Bolsonaro (above) reacting after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, on Thursday. In a screen grab (left), the knife can be seen.
Mr Jair Bolsonaro reacting after being stabbed in the abdomen during a rally in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, on Thursday. In a screen grab (above), the knife can be seen.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Far-right candidate in intensive care after stabbing just a month before voting starts

JUIZ DE FORA (Brazil) • The run-up to a presidential election in Brazil plunged into chaos yesterday after a knife attack on far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro put the front runner in intensive care just a month before the vote.

Congressman Bolsonaro, who has enraged many Brazilians for years with controversial comments but has a devout following among conservative voters, could take two months to fully recover and will spend at least a week in hospital, said Dr Luiz Henrique Borsato, who operated on the candidate.

"His internal wounds were grave and put the patient's life at risk," Dr Borsato said.

Doctors were worried about an infection since Mr Bolsonaro's intestines were perforated, he added.

The attack on Mr Bolsonaro, 63, is a twist in what was already Brazil's most unpredictable election since the country's return to democracy three decades ago.

Corruption investigations have led to the jailing of scores of businessmen and politicians in recent years, and alienated voters.

The attack on Mr Bolsonaro, 63, is a twist in what was already Brazil's most unpredictable election since the country's return to democracy three decades ago.

There was fear of violence flaring up across Brazil yesterday, as the nation celebrated Independence Day, with political groups likely to march in hundreds of cities.

Mr Bolsonaro's rival candidates called off campaign activities yesterday.

Under Brazil's campaign laws, Mr Bolsonaro's tiny coalition has almost no campaign time on government-regulated candidate ad blocs on TV and radio.

That means Mr Bolsonaro relies on social media and rallies around the country to drum up support. As such, not being able to go out in the streets could affect his campaign.

The retired army captain is running as a law-and-order candidate and has positioned himself as the anti-politician, though he has spent nearly three decades in Congress.

He has long espoused taking a radical stance on public security in Brazil, which United Nations statistics show has more homicides than any other country.

Mr Bolsonaro, whose trademark pose at rallies is a "guns up" gesture with both hands to make them resemble pistols, has said he would encourage police to kill suspected drug gang members and other armed criminals with abandon.

He has openly praised Brazil's military dictatorship and in the past said it should have killed more people.

Mr Bolsonaro faces trial before the Supreme Court for speech that prosecutors said incited hate and rape. He has called the charges politically motivated.

His stabbing on Thursday is the latest instance of political violence, which is particularly rampant at the local level.

For instance, in the months before the 2016 city council elections in Baixada Fluminense, a hardscrabble region the size of Denmark surrounding Rio de Janeiro, at least 13 politicians or candidates were murdered before ballots were cast.

Earlier this year, Ms Marielle Franco, a Rio city councilman who was an outspoken critic of police violence against slum residents, was assassinated.

But violence is rare against national political figures, even in the extremely heated political climate that has engulfed Brazil in recent years.

The federal police said in a statement that its officers were escorting Mr Bolsonaro at the time of the knife attack and that the"aggressor" was caught in the act.

Local police in Juiz de Fora told Reuters the suspect, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, 40, was in custody and appeared to be mentally disturbed.

Police video taken at a precinct and aired by TV Globo shows Oliveira telling police he had been ordered by God to carry out the attack.

"(The pain) was intolerable and it seemed like maybe something worse was happening," Mr Bolsonaro said in a video from his hospital bed early yesterday. Talking in a raspy voice, and as hospital monitors beeped nearby, he said: "I was preparing for this sort of thing. You run risks."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Front runner in Brazil presidential polls hurt in knife attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe