As neither candidate won an outright majority, Bolsonaro will face Haddad, the former mayor of Sao Paulo representing the Workers Party (PT), in the second-round vote.
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. Saturday evening's polls had Jair Bolsonaro winning with between 40 and 41 percent of votes, with Fernando Haddad on 25 percent. Some recent polls have projected he could beat Bolsonaro in the second round, though the same surveys underestimated the gap between the candidates on Sunday.
Sunday's general election - in which new federal and state legislatures were also chosen - exposed the deep divisions generated by both candidates.
Better-off Brazilians have rallied to Bolsonaro's pledge to crush crime in a country where there are more than 62,000 murders each year, almost as many rapes, and frequent muggings and robberies.
"Anyone who lives in Brazil knows that life got worse under the Workers' Party, especially for the middle class", she said.
Still, preliminary results showed unexpectedly big congressional wins by Bolsonaro proxies including former military police Major Olimpio Gomes, his campaign manager in Sao Paulo, who was elected to Senate.
Polls predicted Mr Bolsonaro would come out in front on Sunday, but he far outperformed expectations, blazing past competitors with more financing, institutional backing of parties and free air time on television.
Some Bolsonaro supporters called on him to moderate his message to ensure victory, but the candidate said he would not ease up on an anti-establishment message that has resonated with voters.
"I think Haddad needs a bit of a miracle, it could be very, very hard for him [to win the presidency]", Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of worldwide relations at the Brazil-based Getulio Vargas Foundation higher education institute, said.
But a Haddad voter, Jose Dias, said it would be a "catastrophe" if Bolsonaro triumphed. Signs that Bolsonaro could win enough support in Congress to push through his agenda added to enthusiasm.
Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly magazine, said the results underscored "the total disappearance of the Brazilian centre" and that Bolsonaro seemed nearly certain to glide to victory.
Haddad, though, has his own challenge.
"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. He has also promised to cut taxes and simplify the tax code, though he has not provided details.
A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, celebrates.
Haddad, a former education minister, had portrayed a vote for him as a show of support for Workers Party founder and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whom many voters associate with good economic times and falling inequality.
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