Brazil’s Bolsonaro seeks to capitalize on rivals’ corruption charges

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s front-running far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro rallied his supporters on Wednesday with a message of a clean break from the past, hopeful that charges filed against two of his rivals in recent days will consolidate his support among voters fed up with rampant graft.

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin of Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) reacts during an event at National Agriculture Confederation in Brasilia, Brazil August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is running on an anti-graft, law-and-order campaign. He labels his opponents from the Workers Party (PT) and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) as criminals who took part in corruption.

“We’re going to sweep the leaders of these parties into the dustbin of history,” Bolsonaro told several thousand backers at a rally in a working class suburb of Brasilia. “Brazil cannot stand another government by the PT or PSDB.”

Bolsonaro then kicked into the crowd an inflatable doll portraying jailed former president and PT founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula, who easily leads election polls, is banned from running due to a graft conviction. With Lula out, Bolsonaro leads with 20 percent voter support.

PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin and likely PT presidential contender Fernando Haddad are struggling to gain traction and are in the single digits. Both have had corruption charges filed against them this week, which they deny.

Congressional deputy Major Olimpio, a campaign manager for Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, said those charges “exposed what is obvious” and reinforced Bolsonaro as the clean candidate.

Bolsonaro is going after a key demographic of roughly one-third of voters that tell pollsters they will nullify their ballots or not vote for anyone, highly disillusioned with politics-as-usual after years of investigations that exposed stunning levels of graft.

Major Emilio Kerber, a shaven-head active duty Army officer who is running for Congress, said that Bolsonaro “represents the anger of Brazilians with political corruption.”

“He is the only candidate who can break clean with the traditional give-and-take politics that we are tired of,” Kerber said at Wednesday’s rally.

Bolsonaro is facing charges of his own at the Supreme Court for allegedly inciting hate and rape. He says he has done nothing wrong and the charges are politically motivated.

Earlier on Wednesday, Brazilian state prosecutors accused Alckmin of taking 10 million reais ($2.4 million) in illegal campaign funding.

The charges are civil and not criminal, and must be accepted by a judge before going to trial.

Alckmin’s campaign in an emailed response denied any wrongdoing on the part of the candidate and accused the prosecutors of having political motivations as they filed charges just a month ahead of the election.

Prosecutors accuse Alckmin of taking campaign funds from Odebrecht SA [ODBES.UL], a scandal-plagued construction conglomerate, when he was running for governor of Sao Paulo state in 2010 and again in 2014.

The charges are unlikely to halt Alckmin’s campaign. Under Brazilian law, a politician can only be barred from running if convicted of a crime that is upheld on appeal, which cannot possibly occur before next month’s vote.

On Tuesday, Haddad was charged with corruption by state prosecutors in Sao Paulo, charges he denied.

The accusations against Haddad center on alleged payments of debts related to his campaign for mayor of Sao Paulo in 2012 made by a construction company the following year. The charges must be accepted by a judge to go to trial.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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