When Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in 2018, he promised a political revolution. Besides pledging to wipe out corruption, Brazil’s self-declared savior said that his victory was the beginning of the end for the country’s “old politics,” embodied by the cronyism and horse-trading that has become part of the furniture in Brasília.
Two years have passed since he made these promises, and they have turned out to be false. While corruption scandals surfaced, involving not only Mr. Bolsonaro’s close allies but also his family, the far-right leader also ignored his commitment to “renew politics.”
Last year, fearing pressure of impeachment due to his government’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Jair Bolsonaro turned to the so-called “Big Center” of Brazil’s Congress — a group of rent-seeking parties that best encapsulate what the president calls “old politics.” In exchange for cabinet positions and control over large slices of the federal budget, the Big Center will lend its vast support to any sitting government, regardless of its ideology.
And in order to secure the election of two Big Center allies as House Speaker and Senate President in Monday’s crucial Congress vote, President Bolsonaro had to open his checkbook.
Those who know Mr. Bolsonaro’s history should not be surprised. After 28 years as a member of Congress, he failed to approve a single bill, representing “old politics” himself.
And this latest example of pork barrel politics becomes even more scandalous given Brazil’s current situation. Over 227,000 Brazilians have died from Covid-19 and instead of money being spent on vaccination efforts and boosting health networks, millions are being handed out to members of Congress in an effort to save President Bolsonaro’s behind.
Same old story, the same old names, and the same old politics. What promise will President Bolsonaro break next?