Bolsonaro could be the next president – and Brazil’s bishops are worried

This Sunday a divided nation goes to the polls. Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad are rival presidential candidates in Brazil’s general elections. They represent the far-Right and the Left respectively. At the time of writing they are separated by 10 percentage points.

Jair Bolsonaro was born in 1955 to a middle-class family of Catholic Italian immigrants to Brazil. He began in the army, where he rose to captain, before entering into politics in 1988 as a city councillor in Rio. He became a member of the Social Christian Party, which has primarily Evangelical funding and leaders. He stayed with the party for more than 20 years and, in 2016, was baptised as an Evangelical in the Jordan River.

Evangelicals, who make up 30 per cent of the Brazilian population, have rallied round “Messias” (his middle name) Bolsonaro, particularly because of his tough stance on violent crime. A pastor introduced his candidacy to an evangelical crowd, saying: “God is raising Bolsonaro to get us out of Egypt, from slavery. God has the right person for every temple, and this is the man for us.”

His followers include Catholics – he is still a Catholic himself, he says. But the Brazilian bishops are said to be privately concerned about the prospect of a Bolsonaro presidency.

In public, the bishops’ conference said it would oppose a candidate “who promotes violence”. The message was perceived as an implicit rebuke of Bolsonaro, who has called for police to be able to kill criminals with impunity.

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