'Tropical Trump' known for misogynist comments

RIO DE JANEIRO • Sometimes called a "Tropical Trump" for his politically incorrect vitriol, Brazil's pro-dictatorship presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro successfully played to an electorate disgusted with conventional politics.

And from Jan 1, he will be Brazil's new president.

Mr Bolsonaro, 63, has built an image as a political outsider ready to rough up the establishment - no small feat given that, unlike the US President, he is a longtime politician.

The seven-term congressman has few legislative initiatives to his record but, crucially, has not been caught up in the massive corruption scandals that have made Brazilians furious with the political class in recent years.

But he has made enemies with his denigrating comments on women, gays and blacks, while fondly recalling Brazil's brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship, when he was an army captain.

"The dictatorship's mistake", he said two years ago, "was to torture and not kill" leftist dissidents and suspected sympathisers. Still, Mr Bolsonaro has promised to govern "with authority, but not authoritarianism".

Running against leftist Fernando Haddad in Sunday's vote, Mr Bolsonaro promised to relax gun-control laws so that "good people" can take justice into their own hands, in a country fed up with violent crime.

Mr Bolsonaro, an admirer of Mr Donald Trump, has similarly tapped a deep national malaise - in Brazil's case, one caused by crime, an ailing economy and the never-ending "Car Wash" graft scandal that has stoked fury at the political class.

The controversial politician sealed the support of the business sector, as well as Brazil's powerful "Beef, bullets and Bible" caucus - comprising the farming lobby, security hardliners and evangelical Christians.

He owes his business support mainly to his choice of top financial adviser: respected liberal economist Paulo Guedes, a University of Chicago graduate.

He earned the farming lobby's backing with vows to put agriculture before the environment - frightening environmentalists, who warn he would be disastrous for the Amazon rainforest.

And evangelicals like his social conservatism - although some frown at the fact that Mr Bolsonaro, a Catholic, has five children by three women.

Born in 1955 to a Catholic family with Italian roots, Mr Bolsonaro served as a paratrooper in the military before starting his political career in 1988 as a Rio de Janeiro city councillor.

Two years later, he was elected to the Lower House of Congress, where he remains. He has ignited one explosive controversy after another with his misogynist and racist remarks.

In 2003, he said a female lawmaker he opposed was "not worth raping". In 2011, he told Playboy magazine he would rather his sons be killed in an accident than come out as gay.

In 2016, he dedicated his vote to impeach leftist former president Dilma Rousseff to the military officer who headed the torture unit where she was detained as a political prisoner during the dictatorship.

Mr Bolsonaro was known for his physical strength in his army days - earning the nickname "Big Horse". Today, he is also known as the "Myth" - an image bolstered when he survived a stabbing attack last month.

The President-elect has four sons - three of them politicians - and, in what he called a moment of "weakness", a daughter.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline ''Tropical Trump' known for misogynist comments'. Print Edition | Subscribe