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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilian presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party. Photo: Dario Oliveira/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate for Brazil’s presidency, is heading into this weekend’s runoff elections with a 14-point lead over his competitor, Fernando Haddad, after garnering a 46% plurality in the first round three weeks ago. Although Bolsonaro has drawn comparisons to a wide range of populist figures, including President Trump, he may have the most in common with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The big picture: The two come from different ideological backgrounds — Bolsonaro a conservative former army captain, Duterte a professed socialist and champion of some liberal social programs. But they share an authoritarian, populist style that promises tough action, simple solutions to complex problems, and a strongman’s determination to fight crime and right the economy — ignoring democratic norms if needed.

The background: Brazil and the Philippines were both autocracies in the mid-1980s. But Duterte and Bolsonaro emerged in relatively abnormal circumstances in their countries’ modern histories, capitalizing on weak political parties and positioning themselves as outsiders who can bring radical change when elites and democracy itself have lost public trust.

  • In the Philippines, despite strong growth under Duterte’s predecessor, inequality remained high and state institutions fragile or nonexistent, infuriating working- and middle-class Filipinos.
  • In Brazil, a massive spike in violent crime, a record-high murder rate, graft, and an economic downturn led to a curdling of popular support for mainstream parties and candidates, paving the way for Bolsonaro’s breakthrough.

Both men have appealed to citizens with promises of extreme responses to crime and corruption and, in Duterte’s case, action:

  • Duterte has waged a “war” on drugs, condoning widespread extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers, drug users and many people without any drug connection at all.
  • Bolsonaro has pledged to give the Brazilian police, already some of the most militarized in South America, freer rein to shoot at suspects and has at least hinted at approving Duterte-style killings while waxing nostalgic about Brazil’s dictatorship.

More than leaders in Poland and Hungary, Bolsonaro and Duterte thrive on brutal and misogynistic rhetoric, such as rape jokes, and remain largely invulnerable to public outrage against norm-breaking.

What’s next: Like Duterte, Bolsonaro will probably try to assume vast power from day one if he wins. And since scandal and offensive rhetoric fail to dent his public image, his opponents will have all the more trouble combating him.

Joshua Kurlantzick is Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper: This piece first appeared in earlier form as "Bolsonaro Ascendant" (I and II) at cfr.org.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.