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Preliminary Results: Far-Right Candidate Wins Brazil's Presidential Runoff

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Brazil has elected a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, and he is from the far right.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

GREENE: There were celebrations outside his home in Rio de Janeiro that continued deep into the night yesterday after the retired Army captain sailed to victory in yesterday's runoff election. He will take office on the 1 of January. We should say this is a huge change of direction for Latin America's largest democracy. And let's hear now from NPR's Philip Reeves, who is reporting from Rio. Hi there, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: So so many things to ask you about when it comes to this man. I mean, you've talked about - that he is an admirer of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for two decades or so. I mean, what does this moment mean? What conclusions can we draw here?

REEVES: I think we can conclude that many Brazilians are prepared to overlook warnings that Bolsonaro could be a threat to democracy because they're so angry with the leftist Workers' Party, who governed Brazil for almost all of the last decade and a half. They're sick of corruption and crime. And they yearn for the restoration of national pride. And I think that helps explain why Bolsonaro defeated the Workers' Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, so comprehensively. I should say, though, that Bolsonaro himself insists the survival of democracy is not an issue here. Last night, he again promised to defend the constitution. But he is setting a lot of alarm bells ringing. And that was clear yesterday when the president of Brazil's Supreme Court voted. And afterwards, he read out part of the constitution to reporters about the need for the future president to respect democracy.

GREENE: The judge had to remind him and the people of Brazil about the Constitution, what it says?

REEVES: Yes. And I think that underlines the extent to which this is a - you know, the debate here is about democracy. It's a young democracy, and it's a central issue. But don't forget, Bolsonaro also has a record of making sexist and racist and homophobic remarks. You'd think that would be seriously damaging, possibly, to him. But his supporters tend to dismiss these as jokes, or they say they're willing to overlook them because it's so important to them to have a leader who's competent and uncorrupt. For example, here's Cahlan Cabral (ph), a lawyer I spoke to outside Bolsonaro's home in Rio.

CAHLAN CABRAL: He's really honest. He's going to do a good job. I don't believe that he has any racism. I don't believe this. I think he's a really good guy.

GREENE: OK. So she's optimistic. And one reason a lot of people are optimistic about him is his promise to fight corruption, to fight crime, as you said. Does he have a game plan to do that?

REEVES: Well, he wants to allow the public to bear arms. At the moment, it's very difficult to get a license. He also believes the police should have more leeway to use even more lethal force than they do already. People here, David, are sick of robberies and the sky-high murder rate. Yet the prospect of more guns and more police violence also concerns a lot of people because a lot of innocent bystanders wind up getting hurt or killed. As - and I found out about that concern when I visited a favela called Rocinha last night, which is a sprawling, low-income neighborhood in Rio. And I spoke to Luis Fernando DePaula (ph), a black man aged 27 who lives there.

LUIS FERNANDO DEPAULA: I think everybody is worried about it - most of the people are, especially the poor people, the minority.

GREENE: OK. So both concern and excitement over Brazil's new president. NPR's Philip Reeves reporting on that election in Rio. Phil, thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 28, 2018 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly identified Jair Bolsonaro as a former army colonel. His rank was captain.