Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party, gestures after casting his vote in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 7 2018. Picture: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES
Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party, gestures after casting his vote in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 7 2018. Picture: REUTERS/PILAR OLIVARES

A surge of support for a far-right presidential candidate in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, helped swell the ranks of his small party in the country’s Congress in general elections.

His ultraconservative Social Liberal Party, which had just eight deputies in the 513-seat outgoing lower house picked up dozens more seats in Sunday’s vote and will have 52 in the new chamber.

In the upper house, the 81-member senate, the party grabbed its first-ever seats: four of them.

One of 63-year-old Bolsonaro’s five offspring, his eldest son Flavio Bolsonaro, took one of the senate seats. Another, Eduardo Bolsonaro, was easily re-elected to the lower house.

The results were a surprise to analysts, who had predicted maybe only a handful of lower-house seats would be added to the party.

Although the Social Liberal Party is still a minority grouping, should Bolsonaro win an October 28 runoff to become president he will be able to count on an alliance with dozens of other conservative deputies.

Those politicians represent lobbies collectively being called the “BBB”, for “beef, bullets and Bible”.

They count those fronting for powerful agribusiness interests, groups demanding freer gun laws, and evangelicals rallying around the Catholic Bolsonaro.

‘Polarised' congress’

They will bolster the former paratrooper's ability to pass legislation along the lines of his manifesto, which calls for a harsh crackdown on crime, a bolstered police force, easier gun possession, a reduction in environmental restrictions, and a family-first approach.

The fact that less than half the deputies in the outgoing congress managed to win reelection pointed to a widespread desire to punish the legislature for a long string of political corruption scandals.

Bolsonaro, who has been unsullied from the scandals, has promised to clean up graft.

“We are witnessing a very strong pro-Bolsonaro wave, a tsunami that has overturned the legislative landscape, with a congress more to the right and more polarised,” said Sylvio Costa, who runs the specialised political news site Congresso em Foco.

Bolsonaro sailed through Sunday’s first-round presidential election, picking up 46% of the vote.

That makes him the favourite going into the runoff in three week’s time against leftist candidate Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of Sao Paulo, who got 29%.

Haddad’s Workers Party was one of the losers of the conservative turn. It saw its ranks in congress’s lower house drop from 61 to 56, though it remained the chamber's biggest group, just ahead of Bolsonaro’s party.

In the upper house, the Workers Party dropped from 13 senators to six.

It was a sharp rebuke for a party which once rode   high on the back of the popularity of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But it has since been ravaged by corruption allegations, and Lula himself is in prison for bribery and money laundering.

Other traditional parties, the PSDB of another former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and the MDB of outgoing unpopular President Michel Temer, each lost more than a third of their deputies.

Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached as president two years ago for financial wrongdoing, failed in her bid to get elected to the senate. She came fourth, despite surveys suggesting she had been well-placed to win.