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Stable After Attack, Brazilian Candidate May See Political Fortunes Rise

SÃO PAULO — The front-runner in Brazil’s presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro, was in a serious but stable condition on Friday, recovering from near-fatal stabbing amid predictions that the attack will lift his standing and ratchet up tensions in the most uncertain vote in years.

“I’m well and getting better,” he posted on Twitter Friday, one day after he was attacked with a knife during a campaign event in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. Video of the attack was shared on social media.

After emergency surgery to repair perforations to his intestines and an abdominal vein at a local hospital, he was transferred on Friday to Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo.

Mr. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is a deeply polarizing figure, at once the most popular and most reviled candidate in a presidential race that remains splintered just weeks before the Oct. 7 vote.

His followers believe he is the only candidate who will stand up to endemic political corruption and what they see as out-of-control violence. Many others despise him for his virulent attacks on minorities, which led him to be charged by Brazil’s attorney general with inciting hatred against blacks, women and gays.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s injuries could force him to sit out the next week or two in the hospital, but there was widespread agreement on Friday that the stabbing was likely to extend his lead.

“This plays straight into his message: the security issues, the violence and the need to address those issues,” said Monica de Bolle, the director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “There are still a lot of undecided voters. It might be that a number of them now say ‘Bolsonaro is our guy.’”

Speaking with difficulty after his surgery in a video posted to social media, Mr. Bolsonaro thanked God and the medical staff for saving his life.

“I prepared myself for a moment like this because you run risks,” he said, before asking, “Could it be that human beings are so bad? I’ve never done anything bad to anyone.”

The attack has already scrambled the strategy of his adversaries, who condemned the violence, canceled campaign events in solidarity and pulled ads that targeted Mr. Bolsonaro.

This is the second significant shock to the presidential campaign. A week ago, candidates had to adjust their plans after former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then the front-runner, was ruled ineligible because of his conviction on corruption charges.

Wall-to-wall coverage of the attack and interviews with two of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons, who are also running for office, have already vastly increased his presence on prime time television. This will offset his paltry 15 seconds of free television campaign time and small share of public campaign financing — both a result of his failure to make alliances with major political parties.

A suspect in the attack, Adélio Bispo de Oliveira, was arrested at the scene on Thursday. Police said they believed he may be mentally unstable, but the fact that he belonged to the left-wing PSOL party for seven years until 2014 has fueled speculation among Mr. Bolsonaro’s followers of a conspiracy.

“This guy didn’t act alone,” his son, Flávio Bolsonaro, said in a video posted on Facebook. “He wasn’t crazy like some of the media are reporting. It seems this was very premeditated.”

Many Brazilians view Mr. Bolsonaro, 63, as a kind of Brazilian Trump — a political outsider who shoots from the hip. He wants to make it easier to own guns, and easier for police to shoot criminals.

A former paratrooper, he entered the political ring in 1993 when, as a newly elected lawmaker, he called for a return to military rule, saying, “I am in favor of a dictatorship.”

Until recently, he was largely seen as a fringe member of Congress. But with a corruption scandal engulfing the country’s traditional political establishment, his independence from mainstream parties and his unorthodox views have enabled him to emerge as an outspoken critic of the system and to develop a large following on social media.

Though Mr. Bolsonaro appears to be ahead in the campaign, a poll conducted before the attack showed that his support fell well short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff vote. He led the pack with 22 percent of voter support while his closest rivals were tied with 12 percent, according to the poll, which was released on Wednesday. Many Brazilians were undecided: 38 percent had not chosen a candidate.

Overnight, Flávio Bolsonaro posted a picture of his father giving a thumbs-up from a hospital bed. He appeared confident his father would emerge even closer to clinching the race.

“Jair Bolsonaro is stronger than ever and ready to be elected president of Brazil in the 1st ROUND!” he posted on Twitter.

Brazil’s markets rose after the attack, as investors also bet that voters will now rally around a candidate they view as more market-friendly than many of his rivals.

But concern grew that competing political camps could step up verbal attacks at a delicate time for Brazil’s democracy, which emerged from two decades of military dictatorship in the mid-1980s.

“The next days should be used by the campaigns, including Jair Bolsonaro’s, to calmly reflect on the what the next steps will be,” Míriam Leitão, a columnist for O Globo, cautioned on Friday.

The stabbing was just the latest instance of the violence that has roiled Brazilian politics. Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco was killed on March 14 after assailants fired on her car. Days later, buses participating in a campaign caravan with Mr. da Silva were shot at in southern Brazil.

“If the answer is more radicalization, the climate will get worse and more dangerous in the weeks that separate us from the polls,” Ms. Leitão wrote.

Source: NYT > World

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