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  • A supporter of Fernando Haddad, presidential candidate of Brazil's leftist Workers' Party (PT), walks in Fortaleza, Brazil Oct. 7, 2018.

    A supporter of Fernando Haddad, presidential candidate of Brazil's leftist Workers' Party (PT), walks in Fortaleza, Brazil Oct. 7, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 October 2018

Haddad's Workers' Party remains a force in Congress amid strong support, especially in Brazil's poor northeast, which benefited from 13 years of social policies.

Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT) became the top political party in the lower house of the country’s Congress, taking 57 seats out of the body’s 513, while the far-right Social Liberal Party (PSL) of Jair Bolsonaro made a strong showing, coming in second with 51 seats. 

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Bolsonaro's once-tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL) was poised to land 51 of the 513 seats in the lower house of Congress, according to projections by investment firm XP Investimentos, trailing only his rival Fernando Haddad's leftist Workers' Party (PT), which is expected to take 57 seats.

That would be explosive growth for a small far-right party that currently has only eight lower house seats and no presence in the Senate before the vote.

However, Haddad's Workers' Party will remain a force in Congress after a solid showing at the polls, especially in Brazil's poor northeast, which benefited from generous social policies during PT's 13 years in power.

By comparison, current President Michel Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), for decades a major force in governing coalitions across the political spectrum, is expected shrink to fourth place in the lower chamber with just 33 seats.

Several of the highest-profile MDB lawmakers lost their re-election bids, including Senate President Eunicio Oliveira. That clears out powerbrokers who could have extracted costly concessions to pass Bolsonaro's agenda.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has repeatedly expressed sexist, homophobic and racist opinions while supporting military dictatorship and torture, fell short of an outright victory by 4 percent in the first round of the elections and will face Haddad in an Oct. 28 run-off.

However, the PSL dominated Brazil's two biggest states, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in the populous southeast.

With 98 percent of votes tallied in that state, Bolsonaro's son Eduardo was the most-voted lower house candidate in Brazil's history, helping the PSL draw over 20 percent of the lower house vote in São Paulo.

The tally was even higher in the presidential candidate's home state of Rio de Janeiro, where his party got nearly 23 percent of votes for the lower house.

Until this year, the PSL was one of dozens of little-known parties in Brazilian politics with a handful of seats and no clear ideology, thanks to laws that make it easy to create and publicly fund new parties.

That changed when Bolsonaro arrived in March — making it his ninth party affiliation. His grassroots social media campaign electrified the PSL, pushed it further to the right and raised the profile of candidates such as Olimpio Gomes, a former military police major, the most-voted candidate for the Senate in São Paulo Sunday.

As a result, the PSL became an outlet for extremely conservative Brazilians who have lacked high-profile representatives.

That meant siphoning votes away from center-right mainstays such as the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), which is set to lose about 20 of its 49 seats due to its role in graft scandals and compromises with the unpopular Temer government.

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