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Brazil stock market soars as far-right candidate eyes run-off win

AFP | Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is favoured to win a runoff vote on October 28 after winning almost half of the vote in Sunday's first round.

Brazil's stock market soared on Monday after far-right firebrand Jair Bolsonaro fell just short of an outright victory in the first round of the presidential election with a promise of sweeping economic reforms.

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While the results energised investors, the divisive election has deeply polarised Brazil, leaving voters with a stark choice in an October 28 runoff that will now take place between far-right firebrand Bolsonaro and leftist Fernando Haddad.

Within 20 minutes of the opening, Brazil's Ibovespa index leapt over six percent. It later stabilised at around a five percent gain.

An ultra-conservative former paratrooper, Bolsonaro easily beat out a dozen other presidential candidates but did not garner enough votes to avoid the showdown with Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo.

On Monday, the far-right candidate said he would stick to the hardline rhetoric on crime and corruption that has resonated with voters disillusioned with traditional parties.

"I can't turn into a Little 'Peace and Love' Jair, which would be betraying who I am," Bolsonaro said in a radio interview. "I have to keep being the same person."

His words were a thinly veiled swipe at former Workers Party president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who dropped his fiery leftist rhetoric to win the presidency in 2002, dubbing himself the 'Peace and Love' candidate.

Divided electorate

Better-off Brazilians have rallied to Bolsonaro's pledge to crush crime in a country where there are more than 62,000 murders each year, nearly as many rapes, and frequent muggings and robberies.

Many voters also like his promises to tackle corruption and to cut climbing public debt through privatisations, as well as the devout Catholic's family-first stance.

But poorer Brazilians, who benefited the most from Lula’s time in office from 2003 to 2010, want a return to good times and hope Haddad – who replaced Lula as the Workers Party candidate after he was disqualified – can deliver.

The result is a heavily divided electorate. Whoever ultimately wins the presidency in the world's eighth largest economy will grapple with a large bloc of ideological hostility. Brazil's outgoing centre-right President Michel Temer, who has record unpopularity, did not stand in the election

Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote to Haddad's 29 percent, according to official results, which slightly exceeded pollster's predictions. Bolsonaro charged that "polling problems" had cheated him of outright victory in the first round, which required him to pass the 50 percent threshold.

Some of his supporters protested outside the national electoral tribunal in the capital Brasilia, chanting "Fraud!"

That anger reflected the uncertain outlook for the second round. Surveys suggest Bolsonaro has the edge, but that Haddad will close the gap after picking up substantial support from the defeated candidates.

'Golden opportunity'

"We expected to win in the first round," 77-year-old retiree Lourdes Azevedo, a Bolsonaro voter, said bitterly in Rio de Janeiro after Sunday's election.

"Now things are more difficult: the second round is a risk," she added.

Haddad, addressing his supporters, called the looming runoff "a golden opportunity", and challenged Bolsonaro to a debate.

Haddad calls for 'social justice'

Despite his complaints, Bolsonaro did not formally contest Sunday's result, saying his voters "remain mobilised" for the second round.

But he faces fierce resistance going forward from a big part of Brazil's 147-million-strong electorate put off by his record of denigrating comments against women, gays and the poor.

His unabashed nostalgia for the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985 has also sent a chill through many voters.

Haddad, though, has his own burden to bear. As the Workers' Party candidate, he faces the palpable disappointment and anger of voters who blame the party for Brazil's worst-ever recession, and for a long string of graft scandals.

‘Not him’

Sunday's general election – in which new federal and state legislatures were also chosen – exposed the deep divisions generated by both candidates. Established politicians in many states did badly against upstarts.

Some voters – particularly women – carried "Not Him" placards to polling stations in opposition to Bolsonaro.

But his supporters, like 53-year-old lawyer Roseli Milhomem in Brasilia, said they backed the veteran lawmaker because "Brazil wants change".

"We've had enough of corruption. Our country is wealthy – it can't fall into the wrong hands," she said.

Political analyst Fernando Meireles of Minas Gerais Federal University said momentum appeared to favour Bolsonaro.

"The probability of Bolsonaro coming out victorious seems pretty big right now," Meireles told AFP.

"It looks difficult for Haddad to win in the second round, but not impossible," he added.

Despite sitting in Congress for nearly three decades, Bolsonaro casts himself as a political outsider in the mold of America's Donald Trump or the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte: tough-talking, brash and promising a root-and-branch overhaul to an electorate weary of traditional parties spouting empty promises.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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