Speaker threatens Bolsonaro impeachment ahead of leadership vote

. Feb 01, 2021
Speaker threatens Bolsonaro impeachment ahead of leadership vote Outgoing Speaker Rodrigo Maia is threatening to accept articles of impeachment against Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Maryanna Oliveira/CdD

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This week, we look ahead to today’s congressional leadership votes, with the outgoing Speaker threatening to launch an impeachment process against Bolsonaro. Truckers’ strike leaves the population on alert. Brazil’s vaccination efficiency.

Isolated in congressional race, Speaker threatens to launch impeachment

Today, Brazilian lawmakers will elect a new House Speaker and Senate President. While these votes are often highly unpredictable right up to the last second, as it stands,

President Jair Bolsonaro is set for his biggest political win since 2018, helping two allies to victory in both congressional chambers: Arthur Lira in the lower house, and Rodrigo Pacheco in the Senate.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The vote today will decide who controls the legislative agenda until the end of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s term. Congressional leaders are often either the president&#8217;s strongest allies, or their worst enemies — just ask Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016 after years of a poor relationship with Congress.</p> <ul><li>In the first half of his term, the relationship between Congress and Jair Bolsonaro has been tepid at best — and openly confrontational at its worst. Now, the president is focused on building bridges with lawmakers, engaging in pork-barrel politics to co-opt supporters for his allies. Per some <a href="https://crusoe.com.br/edicoes/144/a-conta-da-vergonha/">estimates</a>, the administration greenlit BRL 3.6 billion (USD 659 million) in <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2021/01/24/political-alliances-private-jets-house-speaker-election/">budgetary grants</a> to garner votes for today&#8217;s leadership election.</li></ul> <p><strong>The nuclear option.</strong> Incumbent House Speaker Rodrigo Maia emerged as a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/07/11/pension-reform-rodrigo-maia-power-brokers/">major political broker</a> in 2019 due to his efforts in passing Brazil&#8217;s pension reform. But his style of leadership — which many call &#8220;dictatorial&#8221; — has left him more and more isolated. The home stretch of the campaign for Speaker has made this clear.</p> <ul><li>In a tense meeting on Sunday evening, Mr. Maia&#8217;s right-wing Democratas party decided to abandon the candidacy of Baleia Rossi — who had been handpicked by the outgoing Speaker.</li><li>In response, a furious Rodrigo Maia threatened to accept articles of impeachment against Jair Bolsonaro today, in what is his last day as Speaker. Until a replacement is elected and certified, Mr. Maia still holds sole jurisdiction on accepting impeachment requests.</li><li>Some of his allies <a href="https://g1.globo.com/politica/blog/natuza-nery/post/2021/01/31/em-reuniao-tensa-maia-diz-que-pode-aceitar-pedido-de-impeachment.ghtml">reportedly</a> suggested Mr. Maia will accept not one, but all <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2021/01/28/bolsonaro-impeachment-easier-dilma-rousseff-conservatives/">57 pending impeachment requests</a> against the president. Brasília is braced for a very turbulent Monday, indeed.</li></ul> <p><strong>At stake.</strong> Each of the frontrunners bring different things to the table. Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares broke down what each victory would mean for Brazilian politics.</p> <ul><li><strong>Speaker candidate Arthur Lira.</strong> Deemed a man of his word, his first task will be to compensate supporters by dishing out cabinet positions and (more) budgetary grants. He will also be pressured into furthering the ultra-conservative legislative agenda championed by Bolsonaro supporters, which has been blocked by Rodrigo Maia until now. Among the proposals are bills to forbid teachers from displaying (left-wing) political beliefs, reinstating printed ballots to the voting system, and tightening abortion laws. <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2021/01/28/exclusive-house-speaker-frontrunner-arthur-lira-to-the-brazilian-report/"><strong><em>Read our exclusive interview with Mr. Lira</em></strong></a><strong><em>.</em></strong></li><li><strong><strong>Speaker candidate</strong> Baleia Rossi.</strong> He promises a House that would be &#8220;independent&#8221; from the federal government and champions economic reforms, largely following in the footsteps of the incumbent Mr. Maia. The mild-mannered Mr. Rossi would be less exposed to the pressure of radical groups and — despite not being an ally of the president&#8217;s — he is also not an impeachment hawk.</li><li><strong>Senate: Rodrigo Pacheco.</strong> Supported by the outgoing Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, Mr. Pacheco is the head-and-shoulders favorite and is expected to bring continuity to the upper house. That means not pursuing conflict with the Supreme Court, as well as taking the sting out of parliamentary hearings committees that could become a nuisance for the government.</li><li><strong>Senate: Simone Tebet.</strong> Abandoned by her own Brazilian Democratic Movement party (which holds the biggest bench in the Senate), Ms. Tebet is running as an independent candidate. She is in favor of investigating Supreme Court justices for alleged malfeasance and even vented the possibility of impeaching President Bolsonaro. While there is still a chance of an upset in the lower house, a Tebet win in the Senate is highly unlikely.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil wakes up to uncertainty of potential truckers&#8217; strike</h2> <p>Truck drivers&#8217; unions had scheduled a nationwide strike today to protest fuel prices and demand <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/01/17/minimum-freight-table-trojan-horse-truckers/">higher rates for cargo transportation</a>. Unlike in 2018, when truckers <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/06/06/brazilian-agribusiness-truckers-strike/">stopped working for 11 days</a> and strong-armed the government into caving to many of their demands, unions are split this time around.</p> <ul><li>Still, we have monitored the first reported protests. At 1 am, <a href="https://twitter.com/VIABAHIA_SA/status/1356090912410103811">truckers partially blocked</a> the BR-116 highway (which crosses Brazil from North to South), at Vitória da Conquista (Bahia).</li><li>On the outskirts of São Paulo, truckers have also blocked two lanes of the Castello Branco highway, which links São Paulo to the interior of the state.</li></ul> <p><strong>Fueling the protests.</strong> Among truckers, an audio file of Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio de Freitas has gone viral. On it, he says that it is impossible for the government to meet current demands, as well as monitor whether promises made in 2018 are being met. Despite unions&#8217; divisions, this could galvanize more protests.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The 2018 truckers&#8217; strike created food and fuel shortages in multiple regions, and had an <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2021/01/15/risk-of-new-nationwide-truckers-strike-puts-brazil-on-alert/">economic impact</a> of 1.2 percent on the national GDP. This time around, a strike could disrupt vaccine distribution, break up trade routes, and hurt the revenue of millions of families who can no longer count on government aid after the expiration of the coronavirus emergency salary program.</p> <p><strong>Hearts and minds. </strong>In 2018, <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2018/05/apoio-a-paralisacao-e-de-87-dos-brasileiros-diz-datafolha.shtml">87 percent of Brazilians</a> supported the strike, according to pollster Datafolha. As a congressman at the time, Jair Bolsonaro was an outspoken enthusiast of the movement.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Now, it is hard to imagine a strike drawing such massive popular support — which could hinder unions&#8217; ability to make this a protest as large as what we saw in 2018, which was key to their leverage.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>Today is the last day for investors to enter the reservation period for electric-equipment maker Intelbras&#8217; initial public offering. Despite building a leadership position in many segments, analysts have advised investors <a href="https://www.moneytimes.com.br/3-motivos-para-ficar-de-fora-do-ipo-da-intelbras/">against the move</a>, due to important vulnerabilities — such as exposure to new competitors, its dependency on imported inputs amid a period of currency devaluation, and its overly expensive valuation.</p> <p><strong><em>Natália Scalzaretto</em></strong></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Poor at planning, good at executing</h2> <p>It took over a month between the administering of the first Covid-19 vaccine in the world — on December 8, 2020 — and the start of vaccinations in Brazil on January 17. Preparations in Brazil were marred by <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/10/21/podcast-electoral-calculations-around-covid-19-vaccine/">political feuds</a> and President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/05/anti-vax-movement-brazil-measles-comeback/">anti-vax</a> discourse. And yet, Brazil is moving forward with immunization faster than any of its Latin American neighbors&nbsp;—&nbsp;a testament to the country&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2021/01/19/brazil-facing-vaccine-delays-despite-history-of-immunization-success/">robust vaccination infrastructure</a>. If authorities manage to avoid a shortage of inputs, vaccination could continue at its current fast pace.</p> <iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&#038;time=2020-12-20..latest&#038;country=MEX~BRA~CRI~CHL~ECU&#038;region=World&#038;vaccinationsMetric=true&#038;interval=total&#038;hideControls=true&#038;perCapita=true&#038;smoothing=0&#038;pickerMetric=total_vaccinations_per_hundred&#038;pickerSort=desc" loading="lazy" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe> <p>The potency of the second coronavirus wave also gives rise to vaccination urgency. January 2021 has been the third-deadliest month in Brazil since the pandemic started, with nearly 30,000 confirmed deaths.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/5148688"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>Open banking. </strong>The first phase of <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/04/30/open-banking-brazilian-customers/">open banking</a> begins in Brazil today. Financial institutions will now be able to exchange customer data with one another — such as credit profiles and financial activity — providing customers give their express consent. The Central Bank believes open banking will enhance competition between banks, lowering interest rates. Analysts say the industry&#8217;s top players could lose up to BRL 110 billion (USD 20.1 billion) in revenue to <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/01/17/fintech-bank-concentration/">fintechs</a>.</li><li><strong>Vaccines. </strong>The UN-backed <a href="https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator/covax">COVAX initiative</a> should send Brazil between 10 and 14 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in February, per the Health Ministry. Those not produced by India&#8217;s Serum Institute will need <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/17/minutes-after-regulatory-clearance-nurse-gets-brazils-first-vaccine/">approval for emergency use</a> from health regulator Anvisa. Meanwhile, São Paulo&#8217;s Butantan Biological Institute is expected to receive 5,400 liters of CoronaVac inputs on Wednesday, enough to produce another 8.6 million doses.</li><li><strong>Restrictions.</strong> Multiple non-essential businesses in the city of São Paulo decided to open for business on Sunday out of protest, after Mayor Bruno Covas was seen on Saturday attending the final of the Copa Libertadores in the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Around 5,000 fans were invited to the decisive game of South America&#8217;s most prestigious club football tournament. Judging by television broadcasts, many of those in attendance did not adhere to social distancing rules or wear facemasks. More establishments promise to break the rules this week. Mr. Covas stood by his actions, calling criticism &#8220;<a href="https://www.em.com.br/app/noticia/politica/2021/01/31/interna_politica,1233896/bruno-covas-explica-ida-ao-maracana-e-desabafa-hipocrisia-generalizada.shtml">generalized hypocrisy</a>.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Eletrobras.</strong> After the recent <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2021/01/27/bolsonaro-privatizations-plan-for-brazil-all-but-buried/">resignation</a> of Wilson Ferreira Junior as CEO of state-owned energy company Eletrobras, the government has zeroed in on his replacement: Ruy Schneider, the current chairman of the board of directors. Mr. Schneider is an engineer and a retired Navy officer. He will be tasked with continuing with his predecessor&#8217;s cost-cutting policies and steering Eletrobras toward capitalization.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Public spending.</strong> The Federal Accounts Court (a sort of audit tribunal which monitors public spending in Brazil) analyzed the government&#8217;s purchases of antimalarial drug chloroquine, touted by President Jair Bolsonaro as a &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/05/27/chloroquine-bolsonaros-miracle-cure-for-covid-19-podcast/">possible cure</a>&#8221; for Covid-19 but which has no proven effect against the disease. The court said that the government was harmed by the drug&#8217;s <a href="https://www.cnnbrasil.com.br/nacional/2020/09/15/exclusivo-sem-contestar-exercito-paga-quase-triplo-por-insumo-da-cloroquina">inflated price</a> (267 percent above pre-pandemic rates) and a lack of planning that left an unused stock of over 400,000 pills. But the tribunal cleared the president of any responsibility.</li><li><strong>Crisis and recovery. </strong>Per World Bank forecasts, Brazilian GDP shrunk 4.5 percent in 2020 — one of the lowest drops in Latin America, largely thanks to a <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/25/how-much-is-brazil-actually-spending-against-covid-19/">massive injection of money</a> into the economy via the coronavirus emergency salary. However, due to the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/08/20/what-happens-when-brazils-coronavirus-emergency-aid-ends/">expiration of that cash-transfer policy</a> due to budgetary constraints, analysts expect the Brazilian economy to have one of the slowest recoveries in 2021. Brazil’s gross public debt in 2020 reached the record-shattering level of 89.3 percent of the GDP.</li><li><strong>Jobs.</strong> The national unemployment rate fell between October and November 2020, from 14.3 to 14.1 percent. Despite the reduction, the rate is the highest for the month in nearly a decade, with roughly 14 million people out of a job in Brazil.</li><li><strong>Health Minister.</strong> On Friday, the Federal Police officially opened an <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2021/01/26/health-minister-feeling-the-heat-over-manaus-probe/">investigation</a> into the conduct of Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello regarding the health emergency in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Kept around by President Jair Bolsonaro for his blind loyalty, Mr. Pazuello has <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2021/01/30/health-minister-pazuello-hung-out-to-dry-by-his-military-allies/">lost the support</a> of the government&#8217;s military wing, which sees his actions as harmful to the reputation of the Armed Forces.</li><li><strong>Vaccines.</strong> The Health Ministry confirmed the purchase of 54 million extra doses of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine from São Paulo&#8217;s Butantan Biological Institute. The move came after an ultimatum by the institute, which threatened to export the doses (or sell them directly to states and municipalities) unless the federal government <a href="https://g1.globo.com/sp/sao-paulo/noticia/2021/01/29/governo-federal-se-manifesta-sobre-compra-de-lote-com-54-milhoes-de-doses-da-coronavac-e-vai-assinar-contrato-na-terca-diz-butantan.ghtml">committed itself</a> to buying them.

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