The two presidential candidates who will square off in Brazil’s runoff this month are calling for an end to politically motivated violence — an issue emerging as a central theme of the election.
Numerous cases of violence were reported in the week before the first round of voting on Sunday and have been ongoing since then. The second round of voting is scheduled Oct. 28.
The race has exposed deep divisions in Latin America’s largest nation, with the two candidates representing opposing visions for the future and many Brazilians worried by violent incidents in the name of politics.
“What is going on is extremely worrisome,” said Sergio Praca, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a think tank and university in Rio de Janeiro. “We need to figure out how to get out of this situation.”
On the right is front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who speaks approvingly of the country’s 1964-85 dictatorship and has promised a violent crackdown on drug gangs and other criminals. On the left is Fernando Haddad, a former Sao Paulo mayor who promises to return the country to leftist policies of his Workers’ Party, which governed between 2003 and 2016.
While most of the incidents of violence have been blamed on Bolsonaro supporters, the candidate himself was stabbed while campaigning on Sept. 6, allegedly by a man who told police God had told him to attack. Bolsonaro was discharged from the hospital on Sept. 29.
In a tweet late Wednesday, Bolsonaro said he didn’t want the vote “of anybody who practices violence against those who didn’t vote for me.”
In a meeting with members of Congress in Rio on Thursday, Bolsonaro again condemned the violence — with some threats of his own.
“Even if they are my supporters, I will make them pay if they don’t obey the law,” he said.
His statements came after days of criticism from Workers’ Party supporters who said Bolsonaro was turning a blind eye to attacks by his followers.
Haddad also called for an end to the brutality, saying parties need to confront the issue together. He has suggested signing a “no violence” pack with Bolsonaro.
“This escalation of violence has to stop,” Haddad wrote on Twitter on Wednesday night.
Bolsonaro won Sunday’s first round with 46% of the vote; Haddad finished second with 29%. In a poll released Wednesday, Bolsonaro leads comfortably with 58% to Haddad’s 42%. The Datafolha poll interviewed 3,235 people on Wednesday and had a 2-percentage-point margin of error.
Brazil has long struggled to curb violence, a part of daily life in many areas. The country is the world leader in total number of homicides each year; last year, a record 63,880 victims were slain. Still, it’s clear that passions over the election are having an impact.
Publica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, found 50 incidents of attacks by Bolsonaro supporters compared with six against them from the beginning of October through Wednesday. The attacks happened all over the country and included beatings, stabbings, death threats and homicide, according to the group.
One of the most extreme cases was in the northeastern city of Salvador, where a capoeira teacher and supporter of the Workers’ Party was stabbed to death during a discussion with a supporter of Bolsonaro. Police say the attacker was arrested and confessed that the killing was politically motivated.
Also in Salvador, a university professor was arrested for allegedly running over a man who was selling Bolsonaro T-shirts.
Many other cases are less extreme but still involve accosting, yelling and physical altercations.
Bruno Maia, a 37-year-old gay man who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in Sao Paulo’s legislature, said he was campaigning one day on Avenida Paulista in downtown Sao Paulo when five men surrounded him and one slapped him hard in the face.
Maia, a candidate for the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party, said he wasn’t sure who was behind the attack, but he has no doubt it was because of a dislike of the left and homosexuality.
“There is a bad atmosphere in this country,” said Maia. “It’s as if these kinds of aggressions are started to feeling normal.”