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"This is a victory for honest people who want the best for Brazil", said Bianca Santos, a 40-year-old psychologist who gathered outside a hotel where Bolsonaro was watching the returns.

"Haddad and Bolsonaro will both lead populist governments".

With 92 percent of votes counted, Bolsonaro received 47 percent of valid ballots, far ahead of Haddad's 28 percent but short of the outright majority needed to avoid an October 28 runoff. They underestimated Bolsonaro and overestimated the traditional parties as well as - most crucially - the effectiveness of television advertising in the election.

But Bolsonaro's fiery anti-democratic rhetoric of the past, his stance that Brazil's already notoriously violent police should kill as many criminals as possible, and his desire to rollback progressives' gains in recent years have enraged a large number of voters.

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, celebrates.

Because, in fact, voters primarily got their information via social media this election cycle, especially from WhatsApp groups.

Jana Tessarolo Clemente, a 46-year-old veterinarian from Sao Paulo said she voted for the former army captain "because we're against the Workers' Party more than for Bolsonaro". "We received a lot of criticism from electronic voting booths, some people voted for governor and closed the vote, others pressed the 1 and appeared the candidate of the left [Haddad]", said Bolsonaro.

"The probability of Bolsonaro coming out victorious seems pretty big right now", Meireles told AFP.

Bolsonaro, who has also been given the nickname "Trump of the Tropics", says he welcomes being compared to President Trump.

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Since Brazil's military dictatorship ended in 1985, presidents have mostly been cut from centrist cloth.

Mr Bolsonaro's win was predicted in the polls but the extent of his victory came as a surprise. Bolsonaro himself was stabbed and forced to campaign from a hospital bed for several weeks.

Haddad will need to unite those non-Bolsonaro voters to defeat him on October 28, as the former military officer and Rio de Janeiro lawmaker, who has a record of racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes, has consistently been leading the polls since Lula dropped out of the race.

Bolsonaro has painted a nation in collapse, where drug traffickers and politicians steal with equal impunity, and moral rot has set in. He has promised to fight long-standing inequalities, scrap a major labour reform passed a year ago and invest more in education.

Of the 11 other candidates who ran, only the top five posted relatively large numbers.

The candidate from the small Social and Liberal Party used Twitter and Facebook to reach voters and to capitalise on the country's anger in the wake of a massive corruption scandal.

"We'll speak with anybody who wishes to talk with us now, which is interesting because many of them did not want to have a dialogue with us before the first-round vote", Lorenzoni said. The Workers' Party "managed to ruin the country with corruption and theft".

Some voters - particularly women - carried "Not Him" placards to polling stations in opposition to Bolsonaro.

Haddad called on Brazilians to unite behind him, warning that the 1988 Constitution that underpinned Brazil's young democracy was under threat.