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Far-Right Jair Bolsonaro Leads As Brazilians Vote


And now to Brazil. Voters there are choosing their next president, and the outcome could fundamentally change the political landscape of the region. Leading in the polls ahead of today's final runoff is Jair Bolsonaro. He's a far-right congressman who admires the Brazilian military dictatorship that came to power in the '60s and ruled for over two decades. Bolsonaro's a retired army captain who has a team of retired military advisers. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Rio de Janeiro, and he joins us now. Good morning.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can hear you're on the street there. Helicopters obviously overhead, lots of security. Voting's begun. What are you seeing?

REEVES: Well, yeah, I'm outside a school in Western Rio. It's used as a voting station. It's a mild gray day. And apart from the media helicopter overhead, it's a pretty tranquil Sunday morning. There's not much sense of this being a momentous day, which it is, for Brazil and Latin America. But people have been wandering in, many of them wrapped in the Brazil national flag.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This has been a very ugly campaign. Can you just fill us in on why emotions are running so high?

REEVES: Well, indeed it has. I mean, there have been lots of reports of politically motivated attacks, some against the LGBT community and attacks and threats against journalists also. This election is about anger, and it's about fear. Many people voting for Bolsonaro are angry at the leftist Workers' Party that ruled Brazil for 13 of the last 15 years. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was president for much of that time, is now in jail for corruption. And during the later stages of the Workers' Party government, there was a terrible recession. There was the start of a humiliating huge corruption scandal and the impeachment of Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff. At the same time, opponents of Bolsonaro are angry and fearful about him and his record of intolerance. As you know, he's been - he's infamous for making sexist and racist and homophobic remarks. And they're worried about what his presidency might bring.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And yet, the polls say that he will win. How much trust are you putting in those numbers?

REEVES: Well, about a week ago, he had an 18-point lead in the polls. And he looked pretty unassailable. His opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party, has been making headway in the last few days. And the eve of election polls have the gap between them at around 10 points, which means it's still pretty unlikely that Haddad can win but not impossible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We only have a few seconds left. What about the concerns there that democracy itself is at risk? There's been a lot of rhetoric and talk there about a slide into authoritarianism.

REEVES: Yes, there is a lot of concern about that. Bolsonaro is saying he'll respect the constitution. But only yesterday, the former chief prosecutor said that he thinks that we're on the brink of a change that pushes democracy beyond its limits in Brazil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Phil Reeves in Rio. Phil, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUNFISH GROVE'S "WITH OPEN EYES I SEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.