Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who has promised radical measures to cut soaring crime and widespread corruption, took office today, marking Brazil's starkest shift to the right since its return to democracy three decades ago.

Bolsonaro, 63, rode a populist revolt against the traditional political class to take the presidency.

He has pledged to take Latin America's largest nation in a new direction - allowing citizens to arm themselves to fight crime, promoting more development in the environmentally sensitive Amazon, and moving away from a left-leaning foreign policy.

As president, Bolsonaro is expected to try to make good on those promises as quickly as possible. Days before the inauguration, he tweeted plans to sign an Executive Order to loosen Brazil's strict gun laws - a move that could be challenged by the country's Congress.

Advertisement

Injecting steam into the sluggish Brazilian economy, which analysts say will require broad austerity measures, may be tougher since mediating between the country's three dozen parties will demand compromise and insider politicking new to Bolsonaro.

An estimated half a million spectators cheered Bolsonaro in Brasilia as he became president. Authorities launched the largest security operation ever for a Brazilian presidential inauguration, mobilising over 3000 police officers, firefighters, and soldiers. Bolsonaro was wounded by a knife-wielding assailant during the campaign, and he takes office at a moment when the country is deeply polarised.

Many Brazilians oppose Bolsonaro for his history of incendiary statements - he has insulted women and minorities and said he prefers a dead son to a gay one. The leftist Workers' Party, which dominated Brazilian politics from 2003 to 2016, boycotted the ceremony.

But many citizens blame the Workers' Party for a devastating recession from which Brazil is only now emerging.

Among them was Lorena Abdaba, 32, a professor who travelled three hours by bus from her native state of Espirito Santo to attend the inauguration. She said Bolsonaro represented a historic moment for her country - a moment she couldn't miss.

Flanked by first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro waves as he rides in an open car after his swearing-in ceremony, in Brasilia, Brazil.
Flanked by first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro waves as he rides in an open car after his swearing-in ceremony, in Brasilia, Brazil.

"I also came to watch the official exit of the Workers' Party from the presidency," she said.

A few kilometres away, 19-year-old college student Grace Kelly Silveira, 19, waited at a bus station as Bolsonaro supporters poured through the terminal on their way to the inauguration, cheering as they waved Brazilian flags.

"I think he is too radical," she said. She cast a blank ballot in the elections, saying she couldn't vote for the Workers' Party because of their involvement in corruption scandals.

"They were major thieves," she said.

In foreign policy, Bolsonaro has signalled he plans major changes. Once a darling of the global left for its progressive welfare policies, Brazil is set to become a bastion of conservatism in Latin America.

Bolsonaro is an ardent supporter of the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and is the most conservative ruler to come to power in the region in decades. He has courted US President Donald Trump, a politician he admires and emulates. He has threatened to pull out of the Paris climate accords, as Trump did, and said he will relocate Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, following a similar move by the United States.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Brasilia for the inauguration, as did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The incoming Brazilian government rescinded invitations to the inauguration that had been sent to Cuban and Venezuelan leaders, traditional allies of the Workers' Party.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro upended politics as usual in Brazil, winning the presidency through a social media heavy campaign fuelled by popular anger. Many Brazilians, wary of established politicians after a corruption scandal tainted vast swaths of the country's political elite, saw in Bolsonaro an outsider they could trust.

As a fringe politician with few alliances, Bolsonaro was one of the few to emerge unscathed from the scandals that plagued more prominent colleagues.

Though Bolsonaro promised after the election to be a leader to all of Brazil's 200 million people, on the eve of the inauguration, he tweeted a vow to rid Brazilian schools of "Marxist trash," slipping back into the divisive rhetoric that got him elected.