Brazil's far-right candidate falls short of election stunner

Brazil's far-right candidate falls short of election stunner
A boy waves a Brazilian flag during a celebration by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Official results showed that Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party will face Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman in a second-round vote. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

SAO PAULO (AP) — A far-right former army captain who expresses nostalgia for Brazil's military dictatorship won the first round of its presidential election by a surprisingly large margin Sunday but fell just short of getting enough votes to avoid a runoff against a leftist rival.

Jair Bolsonaro, whose last-minute surge almost gave him an electoral stunner, had 46 percent compared to 29 percent for former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, according to figures from Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal with 99.9 percent of the vote counted. He needed over 50 percent support to win outright.

Polls predicted Bolsonaro would come out in front on Sunday, but he far outperformed expectations, blazing past competitors with more financing, institutional backing of parties and free air time on television.

Despite the sizable victory, polls have shown the two candidates are neck-and-neck for the Oct. 28 runoff, and much could shift in the coming weeks. Two other candidates, one center-left and one center-right, said they would decide in the coming days if they would endorse anyone.

Ultimately, Bolsonaro's strong showing reflects a yearning for the past as much as a sign of the future. The candidate from the tiny Social and Liberal Party made savvy use of Twitter and Facebook to spread his message that only he could end the corruption, crime and economic malaise that has seized Brazil in recent years — and bring back the good old days and traditional values.

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, show his support for the candidate in front of his house during the general elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, show his support for the candidate in front of his house during the general elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

"This is a victory for honest people, who want the best for Brazil," said Bianca Santos, 40-year-old psychologist, who added Bolsonaro would end high crime rates.

People wait in line to vote in the general election at a polling station in the Mare Complex slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
People wait in line to vote in the general election at a polling station in the Mare Complex slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) (Source: Leo Correa)

Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and it is a diplomatic heavyweight in the region. Bolsonaro has promised to shake up its foreign policy, including taking a harder line on Venezuela and other leftist regimes and forging closer ties with the United States. He won over many foreign investors by promising smaller government and a more open economy.

A supporter of Brazil's presidential candidate for the Workers Party Fernando Haddad shouts slogans in support of him, during a campaign rally, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Brazil will hold general elections on Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A supporter of Brazil's presidential candidate for the Workers Party Fernando Haddad shouts slogans in support of him, during a campaign rally, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Brazil will hold general elections on Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) (Source: Andre Penner)

But the election largely turned on domestic matters, on which Bolsonaro has alienated nearly as many people as he has attracted. Many fear what Brazil will look like if he wins.

Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party, flashes victory hand signs to supporters after voting at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party, flashes victory hand signs to supporters after voting at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) (Source: Leo Correa)

Barbara Aires, a transgender woman who unsuccessfully ran for Rio de Janeiro state representative, said Bolsonaro's first-round victory represented a "step backward" that could lead to "taking back rights and more violence toward the LGBT community."

Workers' Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, accompanied by his wife Ana Estela, arrives at a polling station to cast his vote in the general election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. The former Sao Paulo mayor surged into second place after being named last month to replace former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who is barred from running by electoral authorities following a corruption conviction. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
Workers' Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, accompanied by his wife Ana Estela, arrives at a polling station to cast his vote in the general election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. The former Sao Paulo mayor surged into second place after being named last month to replace former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who is barred from running by electoral authorities following a corruption conviction. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine) (Source: Nelson Antoine)

The two candidates have painted starkly different visions of the country's past and future.

A woman casts her vote in the general elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
A woman casts her vote in the general elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine) (Source: Nelson Antoine)

Bolsonaro has portrayed a nation in collapse, where drug traffickers and politicians steal with equal impunity, and moral rot has set in. He has advocated loosening gun ownership laws so individuals can fight off criminals, giving police a freer hand to use force and restoring "traditional" Brazilian values — though some take issue with his definition of those values in light of his approving allusions to the 1964-1985 dictatorship and his derisive comments about women, blacks and gay people.

A woman casts her vote in the general elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
A woman casts her vote in the general elections in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine) (Source: Nelson Antoine)

He once told a fellow congresswoman that she was too ugly for him to rape and said that he would not be able to love a gay son.

Brazil's presidential candidate for the Workers Party Fernando Haddad, accompanied by his wife Ana Estela Haddad, gestures after casting his ballot during general elections, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Brazil's presidential candidate for the Workers Party Fernando Haddad, accompanied by his wife Ana Estela Haddad, gestures after casting his ballot during general elections, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) (Source: Andre Penner)

While those comments have disgusted many, Bolsonaro has capitalized on Brazilians' deep anger with their traditional political class and "throw the bums out" rage after a massive corruption investigation revealed staggering levels of graft.

A man buys a T-shirt with an image depicting Brazil's presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, at the Barra beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A man buys a T-shirt with an image depicting Brazil's presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, at the Barra beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) (Source: Leo Correa)

Beginning in 2014, prosecutors alleged that Brazil's government was run like a cartel for years, with billions of dollars in public contracts handed out in exchange for kickbacks and bribes.

People wait in line to vote in the general election at a polling station in the Mare Complex slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
People wait in line to vote in the general election at a polling station in the Mare Complex slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) (Source: Leo Correa)

Revelations of suitcases of cash, leaked recordings of incriminating exchanges between powerbrokers and the jailing of some of the of the country's most powerful people, including da Silva, unfolded like a Hollywood script — and then became one: Netflix released a (barely) fictionalized account of the probe this year.

A homeless person sits underneath a bridge where he spent the night as voters wait in line at a polling station in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
A homeless person sits underneath a bridge where he spent the night as voters wait in line at a polling station in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

The Workers' Party was at the center of that investigation, and many have turned to Bolsonaro as a tactic to keep the party out of office.

Boys accompany their mom as she votes in the general election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
Boys accompany their mom as she votes in the general election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine) (Source: Nelson Antoine)

"I voted against thievery and corruption," said Mariana Prado, a 54-year-old human resources expert. "I know that everyone promises to end these two things, but I feel Bolsonaro is the only one can help end my anxieties."

A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her vote in the general election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her vote in the general election in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians have started trickling to voting booths to choose leaders in an election marked by intense anger at the ruling class following years of political and economic turmoil. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine) (Source: Nelson Antoine)

Meanwhile, the party has struggled to stage a comeback with Haddad after da Silva was barred from running. He has said that many of the allegations against Workers' Party politicians are political persecution and portrayed a country hijacked by an elite that will protect its privileges at all costs and can't bear to see the lives of poor and working class Brazilians improve.

Ciro Gomes, presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, considers his response while speaking with reporters, after voting in the general elections, in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Edmar Soares)
Ciro Gomes, presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, considers his response while speaking with reporters, after voting in the general elections, in Fortaleza, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Edmar Soares) (Source: Edmar Soares)

Haddad has promised to roll back President Michel Temer's economic reforms that he says eroded workers' rights, increase investment in social programs and bring back the boom years Brazil experienced under his mentor, da Silva.

A homeless person sits underneath a bridge where he spent the night as voters wait in line at a polling station in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
A homeless person sits underneath a bridge where he spent the night as voters wait in line at a polling station in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

Bolsonaro's poll numbers jumped after he was stabbed during a campaign event on Sept. 6. He was unable to campaign or participate in debates as he underwent surgeries during a three-week hospital stay, but instead brought messages directly to voters via Facebook and Twitter.

A voter leaves a polling station after casting her ballot in the general election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. With some voters hoping for a fresh start and others fearing the worst is yet to come, Brazilians cast ballots on Sunday in a divisive election that comes on the heels of major political scandals and economic demise. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A voter leaves a polling station after casting her ballot in the general election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. With some voters hoping for a fresh start and others fearing the worst is yet to come, Brazilians cast ballots on Sunday in a divisive election that comes on the heels of major political scandals and economic demise. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) (Source: Andre Penner)

"For a front-runner, the best thing to do is commit as few errors as possible," said Andre Portela from Getulio Vargas Foundation, a leading university and think tank. "Getting stabbed helped Bolsonaro in that. He wasn't exposed to debate, to people questioning him."

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, gather in front of his house after general elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, gather in front of his house after general elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

The campaign to run Latin America's largest economy, which is a major trade partner for countries in the region, has been unpredictable and tense. Da Silva led initial polls by a wide margin, but was banned from running after a corruption conviction. Bolsonaro's stabbing forced candidates, and Bolsonaro himself, to shift strategies and recalibrate.

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party celebrate in front of his house in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Official results showed that Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party will face Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman in a second-round vote. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party celebrate in front of his house in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Official results showed that Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party will face Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman in a second-round vote. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

All along, Brazilians have said their faith in leaders and their hopes for the future are waning.

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party celebrate in a bus, in front of his house in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Official results showed that Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party will face Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman in a second-round vote. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges)
Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party celebrate in a bus, in front of his house in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Official results showed that Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party will face Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right congressman in a second-round vote. (AP Photo/Ricardo Borges) (Source: Ricardo Borges)

This election was seen as the great hope for ending a turbulent era in which many politicians and business executives were jailed on corruption charges, a president was impeached and removed from office in controversial proceedings, and the region's largest economy suffered a protracted recession.

Instead, the two front-runners merely reflect the rabid divisions that have opened up in Brazilian politics following former President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and the revelations emerging from the "Car Wash" graft probe.

Caught in the middle are Brazilians who dislike both candidates and see them as symbols of a broken system.

"I think we're going to continue with the same polarization," if either Haddad or Bolsonaro wins, said Victor Aversa, a 27-year-old massage therapist who voted for center-left candidate Ciro Gomes, who had been polling third. "We've been on this path of crazy bipolarity. Haddad and Bolsonaro will both lead populist governments."

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Prengaman reported from Rio de Janeiro. Associated Press writers Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Beatrice Christofaro in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.