The far-right frontrunner to become Brazil’s next president has insisted he will not moderate his unflinchingly combative rhetoric or become a “peace and love” candidate as he continues his push to become leader of Latin America’s largest democracy.
Jair Bolsonaro, a pro-dictatorship former army captain, secured nearly 50m votes in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday – about 46% of the total and just short of the outright majority needed to claim victory.
The 63-year-old populist will now face off against the runner up, the Workers’ party candidate, Fernando Haddad, in a second round runoff on 28 October.
Experts predict political pyrotechnics between now and then as the two men lock horns on their dramatically different visions for Brazil.
In a 20-minute interview with the Brazilian radio station Jovem Pan on Monday – his first since the previous day’s triumph – Bolsonaro said he hoped soon to return to active campaigning after his recent near-fatal stabbing and would continue to insist on being tough on crime and tough on the left.
“Our discourse will basically stay the same – one of union. We need to unify Brazil, to pacify it,” he said.
“We have flirted too much with the left over the past 20 years. It’s time to move to the centre-right,” Bolsonaro added.
Asked if he would continue his “conservative preaching” or tack to the centre ground to attract new voters, Bolsonaro replied: “I can’t just suddenly become ‘Little Peace and Love Jair’ … I’ve got to carry on being the same person.”
“Of course we sometimes use synonyms,” he said of his reputation for making incendiary and highly offensive comments about Brazil’s black and gay communities and women. “I used to use swear words now and again. I don’t anymore.”
Glauco Peres, a University of São Paulo political scientist, predicted that in the absence of concrete policy proposals, fear would remain Bolsonaro’s main weapon as the second round approached.
“I think Bolsonaro will carry on doing what he’s doing. I don’t think he has to change much,” Peres said.
“He’ll keep hammering away at this idea of fear … that the PT [Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers’ party] represents a step backwards into corruption scandals and having criminals in government.”
Monica de Bolle, the director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University, said she expected Bolsonaro to come under heavy fire from Haddad and other defeated presidential candidates, above all for his disdain for democracy.
“But attacks on Bolsonaro have tended to strengthen him,” she added. “So I’m not quite sure how that works.”