The leading candidate in Brazil’s presidential election is in a grave but stable condition after being stabbed by an assailant at a campaign rally on Thursday, doctors said, pushing an already chaotic campaign into further disarray. Far-right firebrand Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial figure who has enraged many Brazilians for years with hateful comments, but has a devout following among conservative voters, could take two months to fully recover and will spend at least a week in the hospital, said Dr. Luiz Henrique Borsato, who operated on the candidate.
“His internal wounds were grave and put the patient’s life at risk,” Borsato said, adding that a serious challenge now would be preventing an infection that could be caused by the perforation of Bolsonaro’s intestines.
The attack on Bolsonaro is a dramatic twist in what is already Brazil’s most unpredictable election since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago. Corruption investigations have jailed scores of powerful businessmen and politicians and alienated infuriated voters. Under Brazilian campaign laws, Bolsonaro’s tiny coalition has almost no campaign time on government-regulated candidate ad blocs on TV and radio. That means he relies deeply on social media and raucous rallies around the country to drum up support. If Bolsonaro is not able to go out in the streets, it could jeopardize his campaign.
Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain, is running as the law-and-order candidate and positioned himself as the anti-politician despite having spent nearly three decades in Congress where he has managed to author just few laws. He has long espoused taking a radical stance on public security in Brazil, which according to a United Nations study has more homicides than any other nation. Bolsonaro, whose trademark pose at rallies is a “guns up” gesture with both hands to make them resemble pistols, says he would encourage police to kill suspected drug gang members and other armed criminals with abandon.
He has openly praised Brazil’s military dictatorship and in the past said it should have killed more people. In casting his vote on the floor of Congress for the 2016 impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, he dedicated his ballot to the military regime figure who oversaw the prison where Rousseff was jailed for three years and brutally tortured. Bolsonaro faces trial before the Supreme Court for speech that prosecutors said incited hate and rape. He has called the charges politically motivated. Political violence is rampant in Brazil at the local level.
For instance, in the months before 2016 city council elections in Baixada Fluminense, a hardscrabble region the size of Denmark that surrounds Rio de Janeiro, at least 13 politicians or candidates were murdered before ballots were cast. Earlier this year, Marielle Franco, a Rio city councilwoman who was an outspoken critic of police violence against slum residents, was assassinated. But violence against national political figures, even in the extremely heated political climate that has engulfed Brazil in recent years, is rare.
The Federal Police said in a statement that it had officers escorting Bolsonaro at the time of the knife attack and the “aggressor” was caught in the act. It said the circumstances were being investigated. Local police in Juiz de Fora confirmed to Reuters that a suspect was in custody, but they did not identify him. “We do not know if it was politically motivated,” Corporal Vitor Albuquerque, a spokesman for the local police, said by telephone.
TV images showed Bolsonaro being carried on someone’s shoulders in the middle of a crushing crowd of cheering supporters on one of the city’s main streets when a knife was seen raised above heads just before it plunged into the candidate’s body. The pictures show Bolsonaro appearing to scream in pain, then falling backwards into the arms of those around him. It took a few moments for the crowd to realize what occurred, but they quickly rushed the candidate out of the street.
Fernando Haddad, who will likely be the leftist Workers Party presidential candidate, said the stabbing was a “shame” and a “horror.”
President Michel Temer and Bolsonaro’s electoral rivals Ciro Gomes, Marina Silva, and Geraldo Alckmin all expressed outrage at the attack.
Brazil’s stocks and currency extended gains after the stabbing as traders bet the incident could boost support for Bolsonaro, who has tapped a University of Chicago-trained banker as his main economic adviser.